The Coming Land Run on Health Care IT

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I've got a feeling we're about to see a run on health care IT that will make the Oklahoma Sooners look like deferential ladies at a tea party.


For years, health care IT was a niche market, with smaller vendors providing the IT solutions. But big tech vendors began eying health care IT more seriously after the federal government announced plans to spend around $20 billion updating the country's medical records and other IT systems. This year, there are signs things are heating up.


"We are at the beginning of the fastest transformation of a major sector of our economy in the history of the United States," Glen Tullman, CEO of health care system vendor Allscripts, said at the beginning of this year. "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided billions in incentives to encourage adoption and 'meaningful use' of electronic health records. Given the time-stamped nature of the program, we can expect to see a dramatic increase in EHR adoption."


You can bet the traditional IT vendors plan to be ready to lend a helping hand in spending that money, and, not surprisingly, integration will be a big part of their sales pitch.


In an interview with InformationWeek, Harry Kim, HP's director of enterprise business healthcare, criticized health care organizations for spending on new medical technology at the expense of IT systems. He contends this creates silos of information that hinder patient care:

When you compare IT investments with medical technology investments, IT always loses and what wins is medical technology investments in, for example, the latest MRI, CT scan, or mammogram equipment. With this medical technology you are essentially building expensive islands of information ... Right now we need to simplify the technology experience in health care. It's too complicated. We have too many point solutions, too many vendors, too many competing point products, and none of this stuff can get integrated together.

Predictably enough, HP is here to help, with plans to offer a "converged infrastructure and data center in the background where we are managing, integrating, and archiving all of this information in the back office system."


HP should be well-versed on the realities of IT in health care: The company works both in the United States and abroad with health care providers and insurance companies. InformationWeek reports that HP handles 35 percent of all Medicare and Medicaid claims, and processes 2.4 billion health care transactions each year.


Also last week, Informatica announced the formation of a dedicated health care practice. Informatica, of course, specializes in data integration and data management, and plans to bring that expertise to health care data, according to the press release.


I do wonder, though, whether the enterprise-based, big-system approach will translate well when applied to health care. Although he's clearly not addressing health care records in the United States, I recently stumbled across some thought-provoking and possibly applicable remarks by Michael Martineau, a Canadian IT veteran who specializes as a e-health consultant and commentator.


Martineau believes health IT systems require a bottom-up approach to integration;

The crux of my argument is that the health sector is more an 'ecosystem' and less an 'enterprise.' Hence, top-down approaches are less likely to deliver tangible results in reasonable periods of time and are have a higher probability of failure.

If you'd like to read more about health care IT systems, download InformationWeek's March report, "HIMSS Roundup: The Rush To Cash In." You might also want to check out my first and second interview with Dr. Doug Fridsma, acting director of the Office of Interoperability and Standards in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.