HL7: Solving Old Problems with New Tools

•July 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

One of the benefits of working at Switchbox is gaining exposure to many  technologies, both new and old.  Recently, one of our developers had the opportunity to learn and work with HL7.  HL7, which stands for Health Level-7, is a set of standards used to transmit data between different healthcare providers.

HL7 has been around since the late 80’s and can be very complex and difficult at times.  There are different versions, various message types and data that can be interpreted or mapped in different systems. Meaning, important information, specifically dates, can easily be misconstrued. Health information is particularly sensitive and the smallest error could mean the difference between a right or wrong prescription dosage or incorrect birth date.

One of our clients was faced with this exact problem. This particular client received many HL7 messages sent to them from a local hospital. Often the hospital sending the messages mapped incorrect data to certain fields which were crucial to our client’s system, causing inaccurate name information which cost our client time and resources. In order to fix this issue, it took a developer to manually fix and resubmit these invalid messages.  To be frank, it was a major headache for our client as their development team remains limited and they simply did not have the resources.

Luckily our client was using a handy tool from Interfaceware (http://www.interfaceware.com/) called Iguana.  Iguana is used to send, receive, parse and handle HL7 messages. This tool is both powerful and lightweight in that it handles various errors in real time and runs in the browser so it does not require a lot of system resources. By utilizing Iguana, our client was able to add custom logic and filter out any invalid messages they received. However, they still needed a way to keep track of, fix and resubmit these invalid messages in order to get them in their system and this is where Switchbox stepped in.

With our extensive knowledge and experience, we were able to build an easy-to-use interface which tracked messages and allowed users to view, edit and resubmit the updated message. We accomplished this by finding an open-source tool for .NET called nHapi (https://github.com/duaneedwards/nHapi/). nHapi allowed us to get the invalid messages our client now is storing in a database and ensure the patient information matched from the hospital to the client’s intake system.  

While continuing to use Iguana, coupled with our nHapi tool, our client no longer needs a developer to intervene in order to fix and resubmit invalid messages and patient information. This fix saves our client an enormous amount of time. Going forward, not only can they manually fix an error, they can also look for common error trends by running a data report internally which has the potential to fix problems at their root. Overall, Switchbox was able to save a client time and we were able to expand our skill set by gaining more knowledge of HL7 and the inter-workings of nHapi.

Using Data Visualization To Illustrate A Development Team’s Time

•June 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

If you visit our office you would see several people sitting at desks with large monitors, typing. What is it exactly,  they’re doing? Explaining what our developers do on a daily basis to a client is tough. Each developer works on several different projects at one point and time. Understanding the value our team creates for each and every client, is a complex conversation. So much so that we thought, it would be easier to make a video to illustrate what it is our developers do each and every day, instead of articulating it. The video below is a visual representation showcasing what our developers have worked on from September 2014 to January 2015. For a full description of what you’re viewing, please see below.

The icons in the video that look similar to little spaceships, represent our developers. Each time the spaceships shoot out a line and hit a small dot, that represents when a developer is actually touching a file, updating it by adding code or updating code to make it better. When you see new dots created, this represents when a developer creates a whole new set of files. When a whole chunk suddenly appears, this usually means they have spent an entire week or several days worth of work and pushed that code to a client’s website. If a dot disappears, a developer discovered they no longer need a file and deleted it from the system. As you can see with the activity, our developers have been quite busy.

We understand data visualization as taking complex data and finding a way to make it easy to see and making it more meaningful. If you are interested in exploring some of the different things we do with data visualization, whether it is similar to this video or maybe as simple as charts and graphs, reach out to us. We would love to find ways to help make your data more relevant.

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Business First Features Longtime Client Armada

•June 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Business First recently ran an article about Armada, featuring CEO Tom Foos, entitled “Protect firms from workplace violence”. Armada is a provider of prevention, protection, response and recovery solutions. True to their mission statement, they work with businesses to protect people, assets and reputation. Their idea is emphasizing the importance of prevention and preparing for emergency situations. The article details Armada’s service and how many businesses may not be aware of their need until after something tragic happens. It details how for many businesses whom experience tragedy, their reputation is often on the line long after an incident takes place which is what Armada will work hard to prevent from happening.

Armada has been a longtime client of Switchbox’s and we were thrilled to see the article featuring such an excellent business. For more information on services provided by Armada, visit www.armadausa.com

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Do You Need A PhD To Do That?

•May 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

As our business grows each year, we learn more and more just how we provide the best value to our clients. Initially starting as a company building websites, it has been more apparent that the value we provide most to our clients is not simply creating a website but is by creating business solutions. Most businesses recognize when there is a problem but many struggle with finding the solution, this is exactly where Switchbox comes in.

A few weeks ago, we had a discovery meeting with a company with whom we had potential to work with as a client. We discussed process, problem areas and efficiency. While verbally navigating through each area of the organization, a particular employee stood out to us. This employee was a continued asset to the company’s team. He was a highly compensated employee, holding a PhD and extensive experience in their field of expertise. In the afternoons, this employee worked on high level, complex tasks for the company. However, each morning this individual spent four hours opening envelopes, reviewing applications and working on simple data entry for their company.

We had to ask, why did this business have a skilled, experienced employee working on low level needs each morning for four hours? The answer was simple, there wasn’t anyone else in the organization to do it. Even though it was lower level work, these tasks remained a vital part of their company and had to be completed each day.

We wanted to know more and asked how this employee would spend his time if the morning tasks were removed from his daily schedule. If he no longer worked on lower level items we were told, he would be able to focus his time on research, recruiting and various high level needs that would immensely help the business. So we proposed a solution: What if we made it possible for all employees and customers to go online and fill out their own data instead of having one person doing it all each day? We proposed an online form and detailed review workflow that would make this possible and ultimately free up time for an employee who could be making contributions elsewhere. To put it simply, they were overjoyed. This fix would only take Switchbox about 1 week to complete and in just about a month, the new form would have paid for itself.

This is just an example of Switchbox’s solution-based thinking that saves business’s time and money. Yes, we build websites and web applications but we also look at the bigger picture. We want to find the root of the problem and create a long term solution to keep business running effectively and efficiently.

Can we help free up some of your team’s time? We want to help you find that solution. Give us a call today.

Ember: A Clear Route To A Modern Web

•April 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last week one of our PHP developers presented the pros and cons of Ember.js, prompting a team discussion centered around the idea of whether or not to move in this direction. Ember is an open-source client-side JavaScript web application framework. It allows developers to create single-page applications that are scalable. Ember was created in 2011 by Yehuda Katz who is a member of the jQuery, Ruby on Rails and SproutCore core teams.

During our meeting, we discussed how good design has always been a matter of form following function but somewhere we lost sight of that on the web and by using Ember, this could be made a possibility again. Ember has a real application router layer, model layer, view layer, controller layer, data layer with custom adapter support and it has support for mixins, web components, helpers, sanitizers and CLI addons.  One definite pro is Ember provides sane naming conventions that do a lot of the work for you. It provides a directory structure and a sane way of organizing your code. Additionally, Ember helps you to not sweat the small stuff because that’s what the frameworks are for and often has what you need before you even know you need it. The Ember applications are easy to upgrade with great in-line documentation warning of deprecations so developers can write clean code the right way, the first time.

This was just one of many conversations to come regarding Ember. However, this meeting provided an insightful dialogue regarding a potential new direction for our team. For more information, check out the link below to view the original presentation from our meeting.


Parallax Design Meets a Customized Responsive Website at Netechcorp.com

•April 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The redesign of the Netech website was a unique, challenging and fun project to have the opportunity to work on. The most demanding factors for this project revolved around the front-end implementations.

While the site’s design is undoubtedly beautiful, one familiar with font-end web elements will know that the layout and styling of these components are based of rectangular components/parameters.  Looking at the site, one immediately notices the “swoosh” elements found in many of the transition space between content sections. Though there could be several approaches to how one implements these design elements, a large piece of the design direction involved parallax effects throughout the site on various content components. With this in mind, our developers saw an opportunity to add to these components and make them truly part of the user experience offered by the site. To do so, the “swoosh” elements were built out as separate pieces allowing them to move independently, resulting in a unique and sleek look as one navigates the site.

Although the parallax implementations lent to some creative fun, they also brought about some of the most challenging aspects of the project. The first being the long, scrolling layout. With many large image assets to accommodate the background parallax effects and multiple sections potentially appearing per page, we realized the need to address page load performance/optimization. With some compromise from the designers/client we addressed the issue two ways. One, we sacrificed the high-res versions of images and settled on more reasonable images that were also highly compressed, post resizing. Additionally, other assets including CSS, JS, and font files were compressed using Gzip in order to improve load times on these assets as well.  Secondly, we utilized some javascript to provide the best UX on page load. Due to the timing to load the necessary page assets and initialization of parallax, we decided to display the landing section of each page during initial page load, displaying the remaining content after the effects initializations completed. This allowed us to insure users were immediately aware the page did and was loading while the remaining content rendered to promote not scrolling prior to the page’s respective effects loading.

The second big challenge presented during this project that stemmed from the design and parallax effects was the accompanying implementation of responsive design. We knew we wanted to preserve as much as we could from the desktop view of the site on the mobile view. Thankfully, a couple open source libraries helped us achieve our end goals. Using the skrollr (github.com/Prinzhorn/skrollr) library as our parallax framework, we were delighted with the mobile support provided for parallax.  However, even with this in place, we ran into some major rendering issues on devices running older versions of iOS. This was a result of utilizing a relatively new CSS unit called viewport units. While incredibly useful in responsive design, certain browsers (typically older versions) don’t fully support these units. There is a wonderful library that provides a fix for this issue that can be found here.

In the end, the launch of Netech was a satisfying end to a long road. Unique opportunities such as this and the challenges they provide are where our developers thrive and where Switchbox looks forward to great, future ventures. Visit the site in its entirety here http://netechcorp.com/

Netech blog 1      netech blog 2

CCAD Student Art Fair

•April 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Dropped by the CCAD Student Art Fair in an effort to pick up some interesting pieces for the office! What a fantastic display of creative and talented pieces. Check out the artist’s website for more information regarding the pieces below: www.durdenart.com

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