THIS YEAR’S Healthcare Informatics is no surprise to anyone who’s been reading the business press--HBOC and SMS once again top the list in industry revenues with a hefty 30 percent market share between them.
HBOC took the lead from SMS last year and spent ’97 pulling further ahead through acquisitions, while SMS continued its steady climb, maintaining position and meeting its own target of 15 percent to 20 percent growth. Regardless of who among hundreds ends up on top year to year, few would argue that at least in the near term, IT power in healthcare will remain in the hands of a couple of colossal vendors.
Is this a good thing? "Absolutely," say CIOs who are as weary of trying to make systems work together as they are of making them work. For them the single-vendor solution is the next best thing to sunsetting managed care.
"Absolutely not," say those who associate security with product diversity. They wouldn’t be caught dead tying their fortunes to one vendor, preferring instead to pick and choose their products from the smorgasbord of industry offerings.
But in the end it may make no difference anyway since new developments in technology will render many of healthcare’s IT problems inconsequential. For example, Web technologies help avoid some persistent integration hurdles when systems can be updated by manipulating interfaces. Same with object technologies: It won’t be too long before any feature you desire will reside in an object that can be dragged like a screen icon and plugged into an existing system. Voila: Upgrade.
And where will the new stuff come from? For the most part from smaller, nimbler, entrepreneurial companies much as they do now. Companies and products will keep cropping up along with emerging technologies and new methods of healthcare delivery, undoubtedly changing today’s business paradigm--perhaps even unseating it.
That’s what’s supposed to happen. The biggest companies in any industry aren’t typically the greatest innovators. But they can support the cause in healthcare--like HBOC’s new Ventures, Inc., designed to provide venture capital to small companies with promising healthcare technologies; and SMS’ ongoing partnerships, alliances and strategic business relationships, aimed at accelerating its own offerings by allying with anyone who fits.
So while the healthcare IT market continues to mature, the accompanying industry consolidation shouldn’t threaten healthcare’s advancement. It’s the nature of the industry that the door to new players, to new competitors and to breakthrough innovations can and willremain wide open. That’s good for healthcare. Good for you too.