Children's hospital leverages Apple FileMaker to build custom apps, boost efficiency

What started as a help desk reporting project for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has blossomed into creating software for HR, finance, equipment tracking and more.
By Bill Siwicki
02:07 PM
leverage Apple FileMaker

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland had a problem: Its IT help desk was mired in paper notes. And, no, there was not an app for that.

At least not one that senior systems analyst Phillip Bollinger found to be customizable and flexible enough for the hospitals needs at the time and moving into the future. 

UCSF Benioff is not the only healthcare organization rolling its own apps, of course, and different health systems often take varying approaches. Hospital IT shops in the age old build vs. buy debate can learn from UCSF’s experience, regardless of tools they decide to use.

Customizing a cumbersome process

The help desk reporting process that existed at the time, wherein USCF Benioff employees submitted paper notes to IT, was cumbersome and inefficient.

Bollinger needed a new system, but commercial off the shelf tools were too specifically targeted, he said, toward inventory tracking or payroll management, for examples.

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Custom apps, on the other hand, could be intuitive, integrated, scalable, secure and, perhaps most important, they can  be more flexible than COTS tools, Bollinger added.

So he turned to FileMaker, which is an Apple subsidiary, because the software can be used to craft apps that work on iPhones and iPads as well as Windows machines.

“We needed to create a simple reporting tool,” he said. “There’s no importing and exporting, and the resulting reports are beautiful right out of the gate. Custom apps can do virtually anything we want.”

Branching out 

The help desk app was just a start. Bollinger has since built apps that handle human resources, financial matters such as purchase orders, and software license management.

Much of what was previously done using disparate applications is now managed using fully integrated custom apps. If a change is made in one app, it ripples through the others automatically, greatly increasing efficiency, he said.

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Bollinger’s latest project is creating an app to manage Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute’s summer internship program. The software keeps track of each student, including photos, progress and other details to ensure the students get the most out of the program. This helps manage the student application process, including sending out acceptance letters; reminding students when projects are due; and tracking students’ progress through the internship program and future endeavors.

From an IT standpoint, efficiency is on the rise, too, Bollinger said. Two FileMaker servers – one live and one test – initiate backups automatically at assigned intervals. All IT has to do is specify how many backups to keep and where to store them.

“I’ve been able to create numerous apps to fit different purposes,” Bollinger said. “And we’ve increased efficiencies.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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