Earlier today at the Australian Partner Conference (APC), Pip Marlow announced that our new Microsoft Azure Geo in Australia has reached private preview stage. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us as we work with a number of customers and partners to test key workloads, stress test the new infrastructure, and build Australia’s leading cloud services – empowering Australian organisations and individuals to do more and be more.

Anticipation for the Geo opening is high, and I’m pleased to share that general availability is around the corner, a matter of months away, and will happen well before the end of the year. In the meantime, we’re busy working to create the best experience possible for our customers and partners.

Given we’re at APC in the sunny Gold Coast, we wanted to turn the spotlight to some very innovative ISVs who are creating solutions – Australian made IP that is conquering world markets – all with the help of the Microsoft cloud.

At the event, I had a chance to catch-up with Joe Griffiths, National Engagement Manager for Ocean Informatics, an e-health focused ISV based in Sydney. Collectively, the Ocean team has over 100 man-years of health informatics experience, and a shared passion to improve the provision of healthcare to all through the development of shared health records at local, national and international levels and based on best practice and emerging interoperability standards.

Q: Can you tell me about Ocean Informatics, and your vision for the healthcare industry?

A: Ocean Informatics was founded in 1998, and to begin with we developed global standards for Open EHR - an open standard specification for the sharing of data for electronic health records - and acted as a consulting company. We soon started developing our own software, and started the Open EHR foundation, when we realised that the best way to get people on board with open data definitions was to show them how easy it could be done. Since then, we’ve been working with some of the biggest health organisations across Australia to deliver e-health platforms making a real difference to the services provided to Australian citizens.

Our vision is of a new way in healthcare where clinicians are not just aided by technology, but actually drive it; where patients interact with their EHR as easily as their appointments calendar; where health information systems create fully integrated, highly computable health data, organised around the patient care process; and where intelligent processing can finally become a reality.

Microsoft is playing a crucial role in enabling us to deliver upon that vision. Ocean Informatics multiprac solutions are web based built on the Microsoft .NET framework and utilise SQL as the database. Microsoft Azure is a key component of our offerings as it enables us to test and configure our clients’ services before deploying it on their on-premises environment if that’s what they want. We can’t wait for the new regions in Australia to come online later this year as it means we can offer Microsoft Azure as a hosting service, delivering even more benefits to our customers.

Q: What are some of the e-health projects you’ve worked on in Australia to date?

A: One of our largest projects at Ocean Informatics is with the Northern Territory (NT), which has been implementing a comprehensive shared EHR known as My EHealth Record (EHR) to support healthcare in NT – especially with the remote indigenous population – for a number of years.

Two of the main challenges for health organisations in NT are aboriginal health and people migrating to Western Australia and South Australia. As such, the My EHR platform is designed to pull information out of community and acute systems, such as Communicare and Caresys, into a shared record that could be used by the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory to ensure a continuum of services as patients move around.

The great thing about My EHR, and one of the benefits of using open standards, is it keeps data in its raw form, meaning it is easier to gather and action. To date, we’ve moved over 50,000 health patient records to the platform, and more than 4 million health record documents have been converted and stored on it. This has not only improved the healthcare services delivered, but increased organisational efficiency and patient security too.

Another Ocean Informatics customer is the Queensland Health Centre for Healthcare Related Infection Surveillance and Prevention (QH CHRISP), whom we’re working with to deliver an infection control system to all 146 facilities in the state. We’ve completed 22 hospitals to date, and the remainder should be online by the end of 2014.

The platform at QH CHRISP processes all admissions, discharges, and transfers within the Queensland Health System, and automatically analyses all the micro pathology – about five million records annually – looking for infections. Additionally, the client is able to develop new applications and re-use the data to achieve improved insight into patient records.  

Q: It’s great to see technology play a key role in improving healthcare, and we hope the new Azure Geo will empower you to make even more of a difference. What have you been doing in terms of getting ready for the local regions?

A: We’ve been training up staff on the platform, and our last three-to-four implementations have all been completed using Microsoft Azure for the staging, configuration, and testing environments. We recognise the difference the local regions will make to the services we offer our clients, and are already positioning with them the extra facilities it offers, such as data sovereignty, disaster recovery and training. Microsoft Azure significantly reduces our implementation time and increases our time to go live.

Q: What’s the key to Ocean Informatics’ success in Australia, and can you share your future plans?

A: Alongside the hard work of all our great employees, a big influential factor is that when we formed in 1998 we chose the development environment. There’s such a rich breadth of solutions on the market today that the services we’re able to offer go from strength to strength. Microsoft gives us a full-suite of products, from SharePoint through to SQL analytics, making Microsoft Azure a natural addition to our portfolio. It was a given the platform would be included in our suite when we found out it would be hosted locally – after all, no-one knows Microsoft’s solutions better than itself so it’s the perfect choice for orchestrating managed services and outsourcing.

Moving forward, we’re hoping to work on more integrated care solutions in Australia to enhance the services on offer here. Additionally, a number of countries – such as Brazil - are looking at OpenEHR as a platform – and we’re hoping to expand into them too, Microsoft Azure will assist in our global expansion. Ultimately, we want to double the size of the company in the next two years, and I suspect we will start offering managed services. After all, everyone is talking about the cloud in Australia, and now we’re on the initial Azure program we will be offering a fully managed service.