REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 3, 1997 — John Deere Health Care Inc. is used to looking after the well-being of others. But when the health and efficiency of its own systems were in question, the company turned to Microsoft Corp. and its Component Object Model (COM) technology.
The result is an enterprisewide client/server solution that has produced dramatic increases in clinic efficiency and patient satisfaction. Doctors and patients aren’t the only ones with new smiles on their faces. With COM, development and testing time was cut 50 percent – putting smiles on the faces of John Deere Health Care Inc.’s eight in-house corporate developers, too.
“We needed a real-time, mission-critical solution for handling electronic claims and patient data across five facilities in three states, and COM was the obvious solution,” said Michael Wang, assistant director of information systems at John Deere Health Care. “It allowed us to create a large-scale application in a modular way, with reusable code that enabled us to implement new functionality more quickly, easily and cost-effectively than ever.”
Developers at John Deere Health Care are among millions of users worldwide who rely on COM, one of the industry’s most popular technologies for object-based development. Independent companies have been quick to adopt COM; the demand for third-party COM components, now $410 million a year, is set to climb 65 percent annually to $3 billion by 2001, according to Giga Information Group. COM supports thousands of applications and tools, as well as all of the most popular programming languages. COM is found in the Microsoft® Windows® 95 and Windows NT® operating systems and has been ported by Software AG to many other operating systems, including Solaris and MVS. System vendors such as Digital Equipment Corp. and Hewlett-Packard have committed to shipping COM on their systems within the year.
Since its founding in the 1970s, John Deere Health Care had seen its health-care business grow to serve 425,000 people and to include clinics in eight states from Iowa to Virginia. The company found that increased business also put increased stress on its clinic management systems. Patient medical records and claims, all handled in paper form, became tougher to find, process and keep current. Patient scheduling, done on an antiquated MS-DOS® -based scheduling system, was slow and inefficient. With no effective way to gather and analyze information on the performance of each clinic, the cost of managing patient services soon skyrocketed.
To create its COM-based solution, John Deere Health Care relied on the Visual Basic® programming system and the Visual C++® development system – the popular tools with which its developers were already familiar – and Windows 95, Windows NT Server and Microsoft SQL Server
“It helped tremendously that COM was available to us in the tools and platforms we were already using and that it would interoperate with any standards-based third-party applications or components we would want to use,” Wang said. “We also knew that COM was the only component solution stable and mature enough to enable a fully mission-critical solution.”
COM Automation has enabled John Deere Health Care to do the following:
Create custom applications in Visual Basic and Visual C++ that maintain patient databases on SQL Server, as well as custom modules and wizards that can search these records and present data analysis in real time to users.
Improve communication among health-care professionals. For example, a custom lab-test-ordering application can interact with the company’s messaging application, so doctors who order lab tests can automatically send messages to colleagues advising them of their actions.
Retrieve and combine different types of information, such as text and tabular data, then pass along the integrated data to Word 97 for automatic formatting and printing of a single report.
For John Deere Health Care, the reduction in development time and testing enabled by COM is significant. Because COM allows Visual C++-based modules to be called from applications written in Visual Basic, the modules don’t have to be rewritten and duplicated – saving an estimated calendar year, or 50 percent of the development schedule. John Deere Health Care implemented its printing and formatting functions in just three weeks, rather than the estimated five months it would have taken without COM and Word 97. COM also supports lower costs over time, because there are fewer modules and components to maintain and test, and because the greater consistency of applications reduces the need for user training.
John Deere Health Care is already using its COM-based solution on 250 desktops and across 10 servers in five clinics. It plans to continue the rollout to cover its full eight-state enterprise.
John Deere Health Care Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Deere & Co. Originally created to manage the parent company’s escalating health-care costs, the unit now serves people in Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Its John Deere Medical Group, an affiliated medical staff organization, operates five Family Health Centers in Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee.
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