When health care industry professionals converged in Atlanta, all eyes were on how best to craft information technology systems to address the new health care e-commerce and EDI requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The law, which requires all health care entities to convert their paper-based claims and other information into standard electronic transactions by October 2002, was a top priority for attendees at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's (HIMSS) annual show.
Long considered an important tool that can significantly reduce medical errors, clinical information systems were cited by 74 percent of respondents as the most important application for health care organisations in the next two years, a 10-point increase over last year's results. Interest in enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications also grew significantly over the last year, with 58 percent of respondents identifying ERP systems as important to their organisation over the next couple of years, compared to 11 percent in 2001.
Deploying Internet technology, last year's second-highest IT priority, decreased eight points this year, while the projected importance of Internet technology over the next two years decreased 14 points. Only 38 percent of respondents identified Web applications as important in health care in the next two years, down from 50 percent in 2001. Recruitment and retention of high quality IT staff also decreased this year as an IT priority, falling to 13 percent from 26 percent in 2001. The priority of this issue as a future concern also declined by 10 percent between 2001 and 2002.
"I see a narrowing of focus in health care to initiatives related to quality and cost", commented Charles O. Bracken, executive vice president, Superior Consultant Company. "The priority decreases in Internet technology deployment likely indicate this narrowing of focus. Web strategies are being limited to those emphasising practical application and positive business impact."
Respondents to the survey also reported that wireless, hand-held devices, data security, and voice recognition will be high-priority technologies for the next two years. It is expected that interest in XML and ASP technologies will decline in the next two years, while use of voice recognition technology is expected to double. The survey response data indicates an increase in the outsourcing of various IT functions over last year. Currently, two-thirds of respondents' facilities outsource some IT functions.
The survey data was collected via a self-administered Web-based questionnaire. The results are based on 355 responses representing 355 health care provider organisations. To ensure representative coverage of the field, data were solicited from one senior IT executive per health care organisation. The results from a separate survey of health care IT industry vendors, suppliers, and consultants will be released later.
While the health care industry's commitment to IT investments is the trend for the near future, researchers caution that most of these investments will not provide the improvements these organisations need. According to a new report from Gartner Inc., these investments actually may put health care organisations (HCOs) at risk with regard to their ability to deal with their patients, data, and partners. Gartner analysts noted that the investments being made today are often too reactive and narrowly defined. Moving forward, HCOs must make investments which are fully aligned with a comprehensive IT and business strategy, and which focus on measurement and value.
"A HCO's differentiation and market survival will require IT's measurable contribution to the business", stated Dave Garets, group vice president for Gartner. "HCOs that succeed will take a more businesslike approach to all IT investments, including projects with risk outside of their historical comfort zones."
Gartner's Healthcare Top Ten 2002 report, which highlights the top ten IT issues facing HCOs, discusses how the forced march to HIPAA has revealed a fundamental challenge. Standards which have been created to accommodate the limitations of legacy systems are not "plug and play". Gartner states that health care firms must move towards Web services standards and "easy-to-implement" standards such as Health Level-Seven Clinical Document Architecture.
The HIMSS Conference also provided an opportunity for industry vendors to showcase a wide range of product offerings aimed at helping health care organisations address HIPAA and other concerns. Ensure Technologies, digital information security provider, unveiled XyLoc MD 3.0, a wireless security solution developed specifically for the health care industry. XyLoc MD 3.0 provides authorised personnel with convenient, personalised access to health care information and applications, and now includes the ability to secure thin client computing devices.
Another security firm, V-ONE, demonstrated its complete Virtual Private Network (VPN) solution for the health care industry which is compliant with HIPAA as well as Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) regulations. V-ONE combines IPSec capability (site-to-site) with its patented application level technology to provide a leading edge, total VPN solution. With V-ONE technology, health care organisations can securely share critical information and applications with their employees, customers, and business partners via the Internet using standard computers, laptops or mobile communication equipment.
The company's SmartGate server software or SmartGuard security appliance authenticates users, encrypts communication channels, and provides flexible access controls for client-to-application security. The SmartPass client software downloads in minutes, enabling rapid deployment, and SmartPass can be installed on mobile devices with minimal impact on performance.
HIPAA also is driving the industry to examine e-business application integration solutions (eAI). Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana has selected SeeBeyond's infrastructure to enable a real time environment and to help the health care organisation become HIPAA compliant. Transitioning from an environment of point-to-point interfaces, the SeeBeyond process-driven Business Integration Suite will seamlessly connect Blue Cross Blue Shield's back-end legacy systems, Web servers and data warehouses to assist in improving profitability, customer service, and process quality. The SeeBeyond solution will also support the handling of the organisation's HIPAA-related EDI transactions.