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Posted: 1/12/2011
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National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Health Agency Simplifies Information Access for Health Professionals with Web Portal

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides clinical guidance and helps establish healthcare quality standards in the United Kingdom. To help professionals to easily access up-to-date information, NICE launched an Internet portal using FAST search technology from Microsoft. There is now a single access point to more than 250 core information sources, and NICE has a highly scalable, cost-effective search platform.

Business Needs
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), part of the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), provides guidance on treatments, public health, and medicines. It also sets quality standards and provides resources to improve health nationwide. NICE has an international reputation for the quality of its evidence-based clinical guidance.

In a 2008 study, NHS found that medical professionals often had to search many sources to find up-to-date best-practice guidance on a topic. To help navigate all this information, NHS asked NICE to create a search-based web portal called NHS Evidence to provide a free single-access point from which professionals can search authoritative clinical and nonclinical evidence and best practices to support informed decision-making (www.evidence.nhs.uk/default.aspx).

Project scoping began in August 2008 with a budget of £1 million (U.S.$1.6 million) and a 9-month timeline to launch. Site design began in January 2009, leaving a 4-month development window. The challenge was daunting, given that the hundreds of possible information sources were using different data structures, metadata tagging schemes, and organizational taxonomies.

A key goal was to ensure that search results were as useful as possible. “The challenge was not to present all available information on a topic,” explains Andrew Fenton, Chief Information Officer for NHS Evidence at NICE. “If you search Google for ‘deep vein thrombosis’, you get over 11 million results, and the one a doctor needs may be on page fifty. We wanted NHS Evidence to be as simple to use as any other search engine while returning only the most appropriate and relevant results and supplementing them with easy filtering and navigation.”

NICE chose Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and FAST search technology in combination with Microsoft ASP.NET as its development platform. “We chose FAST based on its market category position and performance merits, but it was also one of the least expensive options we looked at,” says Fenton. “We also wanted the out-of-the-box features and interoperability that come with Microsoft products.”

* The combination of SharePoint Server 2010 and FAST search technology is the best and most cost-effective route for us. Thus far it has really been a winner! *

Andrew Fenton
Chief Information Officer for NHS Evidence, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

NICE enlisted the help of London-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Mongoose IT, an enterprise search specialist. NICE in-house developers worked with Mongoose consultants in a blended team approach. Working with Mongoose helped keep costs down, because NICE could bring in key experts when needed, rather than hiring expensive full-time specialist staff. NICE also deployed Boomerang MIS, a tool created by Mongoose that interoperates with FAST to provide fine-grained details about search performance and results.

The team planned a phased development that would enable it to roll out the portal in stages and provide a fully functional tool at launch. “We didn’t want people getting lots of irrelevant results,” says Matthew Gittoes, Managing Director at Mongoose IT. “Even though we couldn’t index all possible content for the first release, the content we did present needed to be right. Input from potential users was key to our information strategy. Professionals from all areas of healthcare are working together to make this site as useful as possible.”

The portal launched on time and on budget in April 2009 with a main store of indexed data from 90 sources presented through FAST, a separate set of specialist collections, and a separate bibliographic database search service. The site also provides filters to refine results according to areas of interest, document type, and other categories.

The site had 12,000 visits on its first day, and as of November 2010, traffic averaged about 1 million visits a month. “We’re not trying to attract the general public,” says Fenton. “We have a core customer base of about 2 million health professionals, so we have potentially reached good penetration within our core audience, and we’re working to increase that.”

NICE and Mongoose continue to refine the portal, with a fourth major release planned for May 2011. The site now indexes more than 200 sources and NICE has upgraded to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Other divisions of the NHS are now exploring how they can use the technology.

NICE has given health professionals a single portal to efficiently locate medical information that otherwise would be spread across myriad sources. The agency also has a reliable, cost-effective search platform that can grow with its needs.

A Trusted Health Information Resource
The response from health professionals has been very positive. “The typical response is delight and surprise,” notes Gittoes. “One of the country’s leading oncology professors recently spoke about the portal at a radiology conference, and the doctors in attendance were very excited that they can now find information in a fraction of the time it used to take. They couldn’t care less about the underlying technology. What excited them was the tangible benefit they receive.”

A Platform for Ongoing Growth
The NHS Evidence team has been very pleased with its search platform. “FAST has been exactly what we expected and needed,” says Fenton. “It’s highly scalable and highly configurable, and it handles large quantities of information in different formats. It’s important to us that it’s a Microsoft product, because it is easier to integrate with the many Microsoft products we already use.”

Cost-Effective Solutions
At a time when public health budgets are shrinking, NICE has found that its technology choice has helped it make the most of available funds. “Even if we had more money, we would have chosen FAST over competing solutions,” says Fenton. “The combination of SharePoint Server 2010 and FAST search technology is the best and most cost-effective route for us. Thus far it has really been a winner!”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 500 employees

Organization Profile

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has 500 employees. The agency provides health professionals in the United Kingdom with evidence-based medical guidance and other resources.

Third Party Software

Boomerang MIS

Software and Services
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft FAST Search Server
  • Microsoft ASP.NET

Vertical Industries
Public Health & Social Services

United Kingdom

IT Issue
  • Document and Records Management
  • Interoperability


Mongoose IT