2005 health care technology trends will have strong impact on smaller businesses, according to ITSPA

Dallas 09 November 2004As pressure increases to raise profits by cutting costs, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that provide health care products and services are looking to several technology solutions to increase patient safety, reduce medical errors and improve bottom lines, stated the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance (ITSPA), a national, non-profit alliance that helps SMBs understand how technology and local technology providers can help them succeed.

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"Several key drivers are expected to increase health care IT investments by 8-10 percent yearly including improving work flow efficiencies, billing and payment systems, revenue collection and management, regulatory compliance, patient records integration and links between financial and clinical systems", stated ITSPA Healthcare Technology Committee member Robyn Schlabach, RN, who is a principal with the Belgard Group.

Recent changes in the health care sector have challenged SMB IT departments. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which provides for strict security protection of patient and employee health information, creates an environment that strongly encourages the health care industry to become more technology-oriented.

"Unfortunately, few health care companies, whether large hospitals or SMBs that provide medical supplies and services, have sufficient IT staff to accomplish this transition", Robyn Schlabach stated. "The result is a strong push to hire savvy IT staff. In particular, employees who have both medical and IT skills."

Robyn Schlabach and other members of ITSPA's Healthcare and Business Advisory Boards recommend that SMBs get support from IT solution providers that specialize in hardware and software technologies ideal for the health care professional.

"Maximizing resource effectiveness, accessing integrated information, leveraging technology to improve the quality of patient care, and managing regulatory change: these goals can be overwhelming for SMBs, especially with technology evolving so rapidly", stated Tracy Siclair, manager, health solutions, Small and Medium Business Segment, HP. "As small and growing companies strive to create more efficient and secure environments for practising medicine, they can benefit from the support of companies like HP, which has more than 60 years' experience providing simple, flexible solutions for the health industry."

ITSPA experts offered their opinions on what they believe will be the most important health care IT trends in 2005. SMB health care organisations desperately need IT workers who have proven experience in both medical and IT skills. A problem identified by the health care industry is that many high-tech job seekers have high wage expectations left over from the dot-com era. Although health care IT wages are somewhat lower, salaries for high-tech health care jobs will increase as more positions open.

According to Gartner research, many SMB health care companies have excess computing capacity and use only 20 percent of their server and disk space in typical installations. SMBs will continue a trend to buy blade servers, small and inexpensive servers linked together, rather than more expensive enterprise-type servers to squeeze more out of existing technology.

ITSPA experts expect a continued expansion of telemedicine. Although developed more than 30 years ago, telemedicine, which combines the telephone, facsimile and slow-scan images, will grow and improve as new and customized medical software and computer technologies develop. Also, third-generation wireless cellular systems are providing telemedicine with video telephony that facilitates the transfer of real-time images.

Growth of point-of-care IT is anticipated. Medical clinicians are rapidly turning to handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and computer notebooks, and use them primarily for drug reference databases, medical calculators and reference sources. A serious challenge facing the health care industry, however, is finding ways to integrate wireless data from handheld devices with inefficient, paper-based legacy clinical and financial systems.

Using technology to comply with HIPAA will be necessary. In April 2005, thousands of SMB health care organisations have to comply with regulations that protect the electronic security of patient records. These include records that track physical conditions, medical treatments and insurance payments. Health care SMBs are urged to fortify their computer hardware security features. PCs and other access devices that haven't been secured make it easy for records privacy to be violated.

There also is a growing trend to streamline through work flow automation. Tech-savvy health care SMBs are migrating toward building webs of computerized process-ordering systems that automate the work flow. Computer-based electronic medical record systems provide communications about lab tests and procedures, patient scheduling and reminders, pre-registration and registration, patient-physician visits and even supply-chain activities. The work flow automation process reduces paper by as much as 75 percent and streamlines day-to-day tasks.

SMBs are moving patient records to networked storage. Small and large health care businesses alike have to store massive digital files containing patient records such as cardiology and radiology tests and results of magnetic resonance imaging. HIPAA requirements have exacerbated the problem by requiring medical records to be stored longer. Many SMBs, like most large hospitals, are beginning to migrate medical records on film to sophisticated electronic storage systems that use a digital format.

More and more patients are "chipped" with RFID. Radio-frequency identification, also known as RFID and sometimes referred to as "smart tags", is being trialed at several retail outlets across the nation including Wal-Mart. In the health care industry, a glass and silicone microchip the size of a grain of rice also is being implanted experimentally in some patients. The chip stores a permanent I.D. number and allows access to a Web site where medical information is stored. Using RFID, health care practitioners will be able to call up a patient's medical records.

ITSPA, the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance, is a non-profit (501.c.6) organisation dedicated to helping small and medium companies adopt technology and grow by using local solution providers to solve business problems. SMB customers, solution providers, along with manufacturers, publishers and networking companies who use the solution provider channel, are expected to benefit from the demand for technology generated from its programmes. ITSPA began operations with a funding grant from HP.


Leslie Versweyveld

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