How Azure Helps Reduce the Stress of Visiting Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

While the healthcare industry has been using mobile apps and cloud technologies to optimise internal operations for some time, many are now turning to how they can enhance the patient experience. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, already well-known for its dedication to the well-being of its patients and their families, wanted to improve the experience of visiting its hospital. They decided to build a mobile app that would help relieve the stress of navigating the hospital and finding answers to questions for parents, but also provide entertainment for children. The Caren mobile app was developed using Microsoft Azure and Azure services and has been a huge success, helping to relieve stress and letting parents focus on their families. 

What Problem Did Cincinnati Children’s Want to Solve?

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is a non-profit academic pediatric acute care hospital, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The hospital provides pediatric specialities to patients aged up to 21 and is one of the most notable pediatric hospitals in the United States. Having worked with young patients since 1883, the hospital certainly knows a thing or two about its patients and their carers. 

Cincinnati Children’s has always done everything it can to make the healthcare process as stress-free as possible. That means trying to ensure that every step of the process is as seamless as possible. Parents don’t need the additional worry about whether their parking has expired, whether they can find the right clinic or whether their child will become overwhelmed in the waiting room. By removing unnecessary hurdles, parents are able to focus on what matters most, their child and their needs. 

The healthcare industry is becoming increasingly consumer-oriented, and the hospital wanted to be able to differentiate itself. To continue to build upon its reputation of high-level service coupled with innovation, Cincinnati Children’s decided that it needed to look to a mobile solution. With visitors increasingly depending on their mobile devices, a mobile app would enable them to have the information they needed at their fingertips. They wanted to go beyond other hospital apps that just serve up information that can be found in a search engine. The challenge, delivering an app that would provide a seamless customer experience and deliver real value.

The Idea – a Digital Concierge

The one commonality between all of Cincinnati Children’s’ diverse patients is that they are stressed. Whether it is children being overwhelmed by the hospital atmosphere or parents worrying about their children, anything to help keep them calm would be a real asset. The hospital came up with the idea for a mobile digital concierge. More than an app to deliver standard information, the concierge would also be able to answer specific patient-related questions about appointments and procedures. 

The hospital’s mobile concierge, Caren, would utilise the development team’s experience of web and social media along with input from its patient community. The hope was that by developing Caren, families would be able to easily navigate the medical centre, see real-time waiting times and get updates on their child’s surgery. And, they wanted to take it a step further than that by integrating the app with a digital parking pass, building in a natural language chatbot and providing jokes and a scavenger hunt throughout the hospital to keep little minds entertained and distracted. 

Why Cincinnati Children’s Chose Azure to Build Their Solution

There were lots of aspects to consider when choosing a platform for Caren. Firstly, the hospital knew that the solution needed to be agile, scalable and cloud-first. Secondly, they needed it to interoperate with on-premises systems such as electronic health records (EHR) and parking. And, they wanted to be able to deliver the app quickly and then build upon it over time. With existing experience and familiarity with Microsoft development and Azure DevOps, Azure seemed like the most natural fit. And, not only were the development team comfortable with the environment, but they gained additional tools thanks to Azure Services. This enabled them to explore the possibility of chatbots and natural language processing. 

While the development team had experience with .NET, they didn’t have the expertise needed to build native iOS and Android apps. It was vital for the app to be cross-platform if it was to deliver a seamless experience to all users, and Visual Studio Tools for Xamarin immediately solved this problem. The team was able to write the code once and then reuse it across multiple platforms. With Azure, they had a cloud deployment platform that would not only support the functionality they had planned but would allow them to expand and scale in the future. 

The Development Process – The Caren App

As the Caren app was the first time the development team had used Azure, they needed to learn quickly. Fortunately, working with Microsoft allowed them to do just that. The team got up to speed remarkably quickly, pushing out up to fifteen builds a day in the App Center and then testing them on various devices. The rapid iteration allowed them to get fast feedback and make necessary changes. Moreover, as they had a build server that they didn’t have to maintain, they had confidence that there would be no bugs appearing on individual devices. The team could focus purely on development, and that saved them weeks of development time. 

The pilot version of Caren was built in only three months by a team of around six developers. As the team already had experience of Azure DevOps, they were able to quickly test and iterate, even inviting families to download the app for beta testing. The app was given personality by incorporating a chatbot that used Azure Bot Services and Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding. Meanwhile, by having key data on-premises and application logic in the cloud, the app integrates perfectly with the hospital’s parking systems. The hybrid model between on-premise and cloud-based systems also enables the app to interact with the EHR system. Families can get personalised updates and ensure they are always where they need to be, when they need to be there. And, it’s a two-way system, with the chatbot interface, parents can cancel visits, notify the hospital of problems and find out what to do based on their children\s symptoms. 

The Benefits of Azure

It was clearly a cost and time-conscious decision to build Caren with Azure. However, Microsoft offered them so much more than that:

  • Reliable technology – the products and expertise on offer from Microsoft ensured they could deliver great app.
  • Secure platform – Microsoft makes huge investments into privacy and security, giving confidence to users and freeing up time and burden from the development team.
  • Familiar environment – as the development team already used Microsoft products, they could build on existing infrastructure rather than starting from scratch
  • Code reusability – the development team was able to write the code once and then deploy it across iOS, Android and other platforms, instead of needing to maintain separate code bases. 
  • Additional services – Azure offers a wide variety of services that would integrate with the hospital’s on-premises systems without purchasing third-party tools.

The result is a widely-used app that is a valuable resource to families, making their lives easier in challenging times. 

Could Xamarin Help Your Business

Whatever business you are in, it’s vital to give your customers reliability. That is never more the case than in a hospital. Microsoft not only provides a host of products, but it has the expertise to deliver a secure, sustainable and reliable solution. There is no reason why your company has to lag behind in terms of technology. By using the modern tools and modern practices on offer with Azure, you can create a cutting edge app or service and make a real difference to your customers. 

To summarise, here are the challenges, the solution and the results that Cincinnati Children’s experienced:

  • Challenges – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is a nonprofit pediatric hospital based in Ohio. It had two problems it wanted to help solve. Firstly, it wanted to use technology to help relieve the stress of its patients and their families when visiting the hospital. Secondly, it wanted to be able to differentiate itself in an increasingly consumer-oriented industry, retaining its reputation for high-level service and innovation.
  • Solution – the team at Cincinnati Children’s came up with an idea for a mobile digital concierge, Caren. The app would be able to deliver standard information but also answer patient-specific questions, help with appointments and procedures and ensure parking and finding the right department was as simple as possible. To help ease the minds of its young patients, the app would also provide scavenger hunts and jokes. With existing Microsoft and Azure DevOps experience, the team turned to Azure for a cloud-first, agile, scalable solution. 
  • The results – by choosing to develop the app with Microsoft, the team bought into the expertise of a reliable and secure platform, The team built on existing infrastructure, was able to iterate quickly and could reuse code across all platforms without needing to maintain separate code bases. What’s more, with the additional Azure services on offer, they could integrate the app with the hospital’s on-premise systems such as parking and EHR.  The result is an app that truly adds value to its users, relieving some of the stress of a hospital visit in what is a difficult time. 

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