Woodlands Hospital computerisation project


Woodlands (Woodlands Nursing Home and Medical Research Center, Calcutta) had a huge resistance to computerization and an earlier attempt by TCS had miserably failed. So, when we at NIIT got the order in 1994, we were faced with challenges from day 1. Woodlands arranged a room for us in a small 2 storey building behind the hospital facility. This was used by the In-house Doctors who would be available in the hospital at the awkward hours. In that building, they gave us one room on the ground floor which had 3 desks to keep 3 computers. The computers had 3.5 inch floppy drives and minimum configuration even by standards in those days. Large part of the room was occupied by the EDP Manager, Soumendra, and the remaining was occupied by Sagar, my Project Manager, and myself. Soumendra was younger to both of us and since he was the EDP Manager at that age, he considered himself to be a much superior person, at least when it came to me as I was just a programmer.

Now, on the left hand side of the room (just when you came out of the door) was the incinerator, where they would dump all the hospital waste. Every day I had to see bales of cotton filled with blood stains and all other kinds of dirt. Now, I had a very big weakness that I could not stand blood and used to faint when I saw it (It had happened to me many a times before that. I even fainted in the cinema hall when I saw the last scene of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak). However, now I had no choice and even though the same weakness came back to me, I tried to resist. After a few days, I found that I got adjusted to this and I no longer used to feel weak. However, still I did not like looking at the incinerator. So, I tried to look to the right.

On the right, was the mortuary. This was even worse as I really do not enjoy being with the dead. Very often, I would see some family carrying a dead body and wailing along the way. This used to make me feel very sad and I would not be able to concentrate for some time. Added to this was the fact that Woodlands had no place in the hospital where we could get food for lunch (as all around the hospital there were villas of industrialist like Birla and Jalan and etc). The only option for me was to walk a distance to a Petrol Pump next to which there was Garden Café and I could only get Dosa and Idli at an exorbitant price (my net take home salary in those days was about Rs. 5,000 per month). I had no option as I used to leave my house at 6 AM in the morning along with my wife, who was also working, and there was no way she could have packed a tiffin box for me.

This carried on about 3 months and then during this time due to Soumendra we had enormous of difficulty in conducting our tasks as he would interfere at every stage and impose illogical requirements which were totally not aligned to what the hospital really required. To tackle Soumendra, Sagar adopted a strategy. We both, along with Soumendra, used to go to the different departments in the morning to interview the essential people to gather the requirements. During this time, Soumendra would not speak anything as he was dealing with people of his own organization. After lunch, when I came back, Sagar would take me and Soumendra to the Horticulture Society, which was close to the Hospital. There, I would explain to Soumendra about the different flowers and other plants as I had some knowledge as we had a reasonably big garden in our bungalow in Munger. Sagar used to explain to him about the fertilisers and other essentials as his roots were in Midnapore. So, when we had filled Soumendra with sufficient knowledge, we would get him back to our room in Woodlands and Sagar would then go ahead to further elaborate on his day’s learning at the Horticulture Society. While Sagar carried out his discussions, I would documents all the requirements that we would have gathered during the morning. I generally completed this task and packed up at 5 PM as then I went to Union Carbide to work between 6 to 8 PM to rectify their Share System.

Our team was to grow as the requirement analysis phase was coming to a close. Also, the ICL servers were ready for delivery. So, a bigger room was required for IT. Woodlands identified a room right opposite the ICCU (on the 4th floor of the hospital) to be the IT Room. Soumendra was told to give requirement about the capacity of the Air Conditioner required for the room besides other things. Soumendra discussed with us (and hardly listened to us) and ordered a 2 Ton A/C (possibly because the machines were coming from UK) for a room which was about 400 sq. ft (at the most). Added to that he would run the A/C at least temperature as he was afraid that the administration would replace it with a lower capacity A/C if they found that it was under utilised. So, we were freezing in this room trying to write a software for a hospital when even my brain needed heating. Also, when we needed to go to the toilet, we had to use the toilet attached to the ICCU. Now, ICCU patients are not allowed to lock the toilet when they use it and I was in very awkward position when I found a patient in the toilet a few times. So, I stopped going to this toilet and started using the public toilet near the gate of Woodlands (i.e. I had to climb and climb down 5 floors for each instance) which was extremely dirty.

Anyway, I survived all these also started to stay in a rented house in Jadavpur to cut some of my travel time. However, the rented apartment was very essential for the project as a significant part of the software got developed there instead of being developed at the facility at Woodlands. Many people joined the project and many people learnt Sybase from this project. Our Regional Manager, who was the only one in the branch having a laptop, gave his laptop to me to develop the Executive Information System (EIS) using Pilot Lightship. The EIS was a huge hit with the Woodlands Management as it provided complete information about the hospital for the patients and their relatives and other and for all the departments of the hospitals. Mr. PB Ghosh, who was the Managing Director of CESC and was the Chief Patron of the Hospital (as Woodlands was under CESC for that time) clicked on this EIS system in a Press Conference to release it for operations. It was a great moment for me as I explained the system to the Press during this ceremony. We had also developed a Sybase APT Code Generator during this project which was later utilised in many NIIT projects and it provided enhanced productivity.

There was a huge reward in store for me for these days that I spent in Woodlands. When I admitted Deepshree to Woodlands for the delivery of Riya, she got a treatment from the hospital which any VIP would not have.




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  2. I believe that the physical challenges was easily overcome and never mattered because there were huge learning from this project. 3 significant learning which helped me enormously through these year are as follows.

    1. When we were analysing the system, possibly due to the fact that we were always discussing the requirements with the middle level managers of Woodlands, we did not get a picture of what we actually needed to achieve from this computerization. In the initial stages, it seemed to me that we were merely replacing the data capture mechanism of the hospital from paper documents to electronic media. This was because we were designing the system around what was recorded in the registers of the different departments of the hospital to be recorded using a computer and stored in databases. So, we were replacing papers with magnetic disks. All of this underwent a paradigm change when Mr. Dipesh Barua, who was on the board of Woodlands and was the Financial Controller of ITC, came to inspect the progress. When we explained the progress, he closed the meeting after 10 minutes and told us that we were absolute nonsense. He gave us 2 days and gave us 4 objectives – 1) The system should enable a patient reach his/her bed in the hospital on arrival at the hospital gate within 10 minutes, 2) 90% of the hospital beds should be occupied at any point of time, 3) Any party in the hospital, internal or external, should be able to track the status of any of his/her request within 5 minutes, 4) The patient party should be able to complete all formalities during the discharge process and leave the hospital in 30 minutes. We worked over the next 2 days and reworked all the workflows. Sagar decided that as I had the best English speaking ability among us, I should moderate the meeting. Mr. Dipesh Barua gave us 30 minutes time and arrived sharp at 9:00 AM. I started to explain our solution and this meeting carried on till 11 PM in the night. This was a turning point as now we actually started to engineer a solution for the hospital and stopped working like carpenters.

    2. Sagar anticipated that we would be joined by members in the team whose skills level in Sybase would not be up to his expectation. This would lead to all kinds of code which would result in lots of testing effort and rework. So, he told me to develop a code generator for Sybase APT to which we could specify nature of the code required, like whether it was for Menu processing, or Pre-Entry Trigger of a field, and so on. The this tool would create the basic structure of the needed code. All the programmer should need doing was to fill in the essential SQL statements at the appropriate points marked by the code generator. I developed this tool using Curses library. This became very useful as it reduced the development time drastically and the code across the system was very standardized. This was my first exposure to creating Rapid Development Tools. This was sort of standardized across NIIT for all subsequent projects where Sybase was sold.

    3. The Executive Information System (EIS) was the only part of the solution where we could program something spectacular which would be visually attractive as this system would be developed and deployed on machines running Windows on coloured terminals, the rest of the system being run on black & white UNIX terminals. What was needed was a complete panorama of the hospital with all essential information which could be unfolded stage by stage. I got the complete blueprint of the hospital from their Administration department and drew the complete hospital layout using Excel on the laptop of our Regional Manager that he had given to me for this project. I drew everything to scale. Then I planted all the hotspots from where transactions could be triggered. The system had so many hotspots that the experience was like sculpting each minor details of Taj Mahal. After that I programmed each hotspot for the purpose they were placed. When one opened the system, the complete hospital would be displayed. Then, when one clicked on a floor, the complete floor would be displayed with status of each room and one could drill down to more details. The incoming patient could select a room depending on their choice of location and budget and orientation and floor, etc. and book it in one click from the EIS and proceed to his/her selected room while someone in his party could complete the needed paper work. Similarly, if a patient wanted to undergo open-heart surgery, he/she could visualize the complete plan regarding where he/she would be put up initially, then which Operation Theatre he/she would be operated in, and then which bed in the ICCU he/she would be brought to, and then to which room he/she would be shifted to from where he/she would be discharged. At that time, I had no exposure to Internet and when I saw the Yahoo portal quite a few years later, I realized that what Yahoo had designed, our EIS was also something very similar and actually it was a portal from where any information relating to the hospital could be accessed besides the possibilities for conducting some transactions. Developing this EIS, I got the confidence that I could innovate and create solutions even without having the right kind of tools.

  3. Wow this made for a very interesting read!!
    It was surreal yet a real incident. You have truly been through the fire and thrived .

  4. Thanks Jayanta

  5. Jayanta Mandal says:

    Already addicted to your FB postings… Now this site is adding another dimension to it… Please keep sharing your experiences so that I can learn something….

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