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Hot Off The Press

e-Health Shifting From Industry Buzzword to Practice
-- Predictions for the Future of e-Health From the Publisher of "e-Healthcare Market Reporter" --

Manasquan, N.J. -- e-Healthcare is no longer just an industry buzzword. It's in practice, and although it brings with it increased efficiencies and better communications, it also presents a number of challenges for healthcare providers.

For instance, hospitals must apply serious due diligence before awarding contracts to e-health vendors, Robert K. Jenkins, publisher of "e-Healthcare Market Reporter," said in remarks made before his presentation on e-health at the Florida Institute of CPAs' 2000 Health Care Industry Conference in Orlando Thursday and Friday (May 11-12).

With a new "killer" e-health application entering the market seemingly every day, Jenkins said it is important for hospitals to exercise the same scrutinizing eye when choosing Web application vendors as they would when making any other other capital purchase.

"Hospitals really have to know their vendors -- today more than ever," Jenkins said. "Apply due diligence efforts when sourcing providers of Internet solutions. Know your vendor, ensure the company is financially viable, get references and really get to know who you're dealing with."

And, choosing the healthcare IT company they've done business with before may not be an option for every hospital, as the current e-healthcare vendor list reads like a who's-who in start-up, venture capital-driven companies. The majority of "Old Economy" healthcare IT companies have been seemingly slow to turn "e." A number of the mainstays have launched Web-based strategies only in the last six months, Jenkins noted.

"Old Economy companies move like aircraft carriers -- they can't turn on a dime. We kept wondering where they were [when e-healthcare came to the forefront of the healthcare IT industry]," he said. "This doesn't mean the end of "old economy," but there will be fewer companies when the dust settles. Non-public companies will have problems because of the April 14 stock market decline that especially affected Internet ventures; they could run out of money because they may have a hard time proving their business models to the venture capitalists.

"Consolidation has marked the field. Healtheon/WebMD spent the last nine months fleshing out its business model, and in some cases, ensured themselves a stable revenue stream by positioning themselves to be on a lot of desktops. They definitely have first-mover advantage," Jenkins said.

And while old-line IT companies and venture capitalists have seemed reluctant to embrace "e," so have hospitals. When comparing hospitals' IT needs with the priorities of IT vendors, it is important to note both parties are not on the same page, meaning many hospitals may be courted by vendors pushing technologies that are beyond their present Web plans.

"There's a real disconnect between where hospitals place their Internet strategies [in a list of their most pressing priorities] and where healthcare IT vendors have put their priorities," Jenkins said, citing the conflicting findings of a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's survey of hospital CIOs and IT company CEOs and a Managed Care Information Center survey of IT company executives. Nearly 30 percent of the hospital executives responding to the HIMSS survey said promotion/marketing was their top priority, while the majority of IT executives polled by The Managed Care Information Center named Web-based products as their focus.

"Hospitals are behind where IT companies have placed their emphases." And in some cases, the rest of the world is eclipsing healthcare in its use of technology.

"The UPS guy has more technology in his hand when he arrives in my office than my doctor had when he gave my recent annual physical," he added.

The benefits of e-healthcare are immense, Jenkins said. When applied, e-healthcare will enable healthcare players across the board to squeeze out a significant portion of their administrative costs, which now largely fund cycles of paper handling.

While the transition to electronic processes has be slow in healthcare due to privacy concerns and the lack of standards, these problems soon will be a distant memory, Jenkins said, with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on the horizon.

"HIPAA is forcing the issue. Patient confidentiality and security are paramount, the recent ‘Love Bug' not withstanding," Jenkins said. "Companies were shut down, even the Pentagon was affected by this computer virus. We have a long way to go. It shows how vulnerable our systems are, but HIPAA aims to protect privacy and establish industry standards."

During his presentation, Jenkins offered several predictions for the future of the e-healthcare, including:

  • Purchasing and materials management will quickly shift to the Web;
  • The savings from moving from paper to the Web will be in the billions;
  • Hospitals will "power up" the e-health capability of their Web sites;
  • Web access will be part of the daily work routines of hospital staff and physicians;
  • Personal data from interactive health assessment tools will become a part of a person's medical record;
  • A shift to Web-based application services providers (ASPs) will be seen; and
  • "Old economy" healthcare IT vendors will play catch-up.
Companies Jenkins cited as making headway in the e-health arena include content players OnHealth, Mayo Health Clinic Oasis and the Healthcare Intelligence Network; the transaction-focused; procurement companies Chemdex, and Free Markets; online prescription sites, and; health education companies WellMed and Staywell; and disease management companies Health Magic, Physicians Online and LifeMasters. In addition, Jenkins individually profiled, Promedex and Cimtek Medical Company.

For more information about current trends in e-healthcare, click here to get a free copy of "e-Healthcare in Action: Seven Areas e-Healthcare Is Making an Impact."

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