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Eyeing World Healthcare

February 1, 1998
by Polly Schneider
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Eyeing World Healthcare

By Polly Schneider

The advent of advanced communications technology and its increased availability worldwide is promoting ties between people and nations where before there were none, bridging the gap between isolated rural communities and major metropolitan areas and providing a higher quality of life. At the same time, concerns in healthcare are swiftly becoming more global. Many regions of the world are confronting the same pressing issues-spiraling healthcare costs, demand for better quality of care, and a lack of data on effective treatment methods.

Increasingly, other countries are recognizing that information technology is the essential missing link to address these needs. Healthcare executives around the world realize that their goals with IT are shared: developing clinical information systems and the CPR, achieving standards, safeguarding patient privacy, exploiting the Internet, and networking systems in an enterprise. Making the effort to work with other nations on these initiatives can help us all reach solutions more quickly. In some areas of standards, our international counterparts are way ahead of the game: In Europe, for instance, work on privacy, confidentiality and security standards is quite advanced. Collaboration can prevent wasteful duplications of effort.

The problems facing IT leaders in other countries will also affect our plans here in the U.S. The Europeans are having to adapt their systems for the Euro, the common currency scheduled to debut in 1999: American companies doing business in Europe will have to program their software to accommodate the new currency. And in preparing for the year 2000, it is in our best interest to ensure that our overseas counterparts do the same. In an interview on page 96, international healthcare informatics expert Marion Ball discusses the importance of international awareness and partnerships: "The bottom line is we have no choice. We either stand together or we fall." Ball is convinced that healthcare-both technology and knowledge-will be a major export of this country in coming years.

The tech firms are already broadening their domestic perspective. Industry experts predict that American healthcare information system companies are at the brink of an explosion in demand from abroad. More than 25 of the leading vendors are churning revenue streams overseas, and companies that have been in foreign markets for years, like MEDITECH, Westwood, Mass., are seeing growing potential in healthy economies like the United Kingdom: The company has products installed in 20 U.K. hospitals. The purchase of Medic Computer Systems--the fourth-largest healthcare IS firm in 1997--by U.K. software giant Misys, and HBOC’s acquisition of two U.K.-based AT&T businesses last fall are likely just a taste of the kinds of deals we’ll see in the industry this year and beyond.

Europe may well become a lucrative market for American products and services since reforms in healthcare structuring and financing have been sweeping the continent over the past few years, bringing more private companies and resources to the table.

And in the Tiger economies of the Pacific Rim, government-mandated construction and modernization in healthcare is attracting Western firms hand over fist to places like Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Still, technology is not the panacea for the world’s ills. Unrest and instability persist in every major region. The spectacular collapse of financial markets in Asia has threatened that region’s vital business and economic relationships with the U.S., invoking fear and distrust in investors and politicians alike. Despite such setbacks, a return to isolationism is nearly impossible in today’s world.In an effort to monitor the trends in healthcare occurring around the globe, Healthcare Informatics introduces with this issue a new section devoted to international coverage. In coming months, look for news by region of emerging healthcare IT initiatives. In the meantime, we welcome both your news and your thoughts on healthcare IT around the world.

Technology Ambassador

With feet on three continents, Marion Ball is devoting her career to uniting worldwide healthcare

By Polly Schneider

Marion J. Ball, EdD, is one of the leading voices for clinical informatics in the international community, having served in leadership roles at the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) and several academic medical centers in the U.S. She consults overseas regularly for First Consulting Group and continues as an active member of IMIA. A champion of international collaboration on such pressing issues as security, privacy, standards and the computer-based patient record (CPR), Ball is a firm believer in the growing impact of the world market on the delivery and use of healthcare information technology. In talking about U.S. initiatives for an expanded role overseas in healthcare, her enthusiasm abounds: "America is the most fabulous country in terms of sharing its knowledge worldwide. I’m very happy to be part of that initiative."

From her German heritage and experiences growing up in South Africa under the tutelage of her physician father, a pioneer of sports medicine in the United States, Ball brings a unique perspective to the industry. She has devoted a lifetime to the pursuit of clinical automation: Her passion is to improve the quality of healthcare worldwide through the advancement of information technology. Ball sees the globalization of healthcare as an inevitable consequence of economic progress.