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The Business Press

September 1, 2006
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Innovative thinking will be essential to organizations competing in healthcare's evolving business environment.

For the most part, healthcare providers have distinguished themselves as centers of excellence through their expertise and war chests of diagnostic tools. And although healthcare organizations are increasingly making efforts to put human faces on their entities, ownership of highly sophisticated diagnostic instruments and equipment continues to be a key strategy in competing against neighboring providers and achieving profitable margins.

Although such big-ticket diagnostic tools require major capital expenditures, they can be justified not only by the need to maintain competitive advantage, but by fairly straightforward return-on-investment calculations. However, as innovation continues to create easier-to-use diagnostic instruments with lower purchase prices, tests once restricted to inpatient procedures are moving into physician offices and even further downstream. Some diagnostics are now appearing as over-the-counter testing kits.

Some services, particularly radiology and laboratory, are now being aggressively marketed directly to consumers in ad campaigns not unlike other sales promotions. One recent offer promotes a bundled package of ultrasound tests. Three vascular screenings, regularly priced at $135, are available at $109. Add a bone density scan for a complete wellness package with all four screenings, valued at $170, for only $129 — a savings of "up to $41." What a deal.

In addition, the growth of so-called wellness clinics conveniently sited in retail pharmacies, supermarkets and big box retail outlets are encroaching on existing provider service models. First-to-market Minneapolis-based MinuteClinic, soon to become a division of Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Corp., already boasts 83 outlets in 10 states, 66 of which are in CVS stores.

Although SmartCare Family Medical Centers, Greenwood Village, Colo., recently opened its first retail clinic, it has little market penetration to date. However, the company has done its homework and is positioned to make serious inroads with partnership agreements with two divisions of supermarket giant Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger, as well as a letter of intent with Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark.

Although these examples aren't likely to have much effect on healthcare providers for some time, these new types of competitors — as well as others — are changing not only the delivery of services, but consumers' perceptions and expectations. Patients' growing complaints about lengthy waiting room times, for example, have already affected policies in some progressive organizations, which are aggressively striving to reduce patients' inconveniences and create more consumer-friendly services.

Recognizing Excellence

Among our nine innovators recognized in this issue, the quest began as an idea aimed at improving a process or a service. But a good idea is not enough. After identifying a better way to solve a particular problem, each of these creative people took charge and shepherded the project to completion using IT tools. (Stories beginning on page 30.)

For some of these innovators, emerging technologies were key to their success. But for most, there was no magic bullet and no rocket science was required. Most projects were built using existing and reliable technologies. Whether their new idea optimized workflow, enhanced customers' experience, generated revenue, resolved a 'thorn-in-the-side' issue or forced healthcare leaders to confront difficult issues, each individual stands out as a creative and innovative healthcare leader who is actively supporting and underwriting his or her organizations' business goals.

Maybe the accomplishments by these HIT innovators will spark an idea that leads to a way to resolve a sticky issue at your organization. Or, maybe you will see a direct or indirect application for their solutions within your organization. Whatever the outcome, we hope you'll share your progress with us.

Author Information:

Charlene Marietti