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March 1, 1998
by Polly Schneider
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National Center for Healthcare IT

By Polly Schneider

While the Australian healthcare system is funded almost entirely by the national and state governments, the country is undergoing two changes that promise to boost the demand for sophisticated information technologies. The first--cost cutting efforts by the government and growing privatization of services--mirrors healthcare reform movements in much of the developed world. Secondly, hospital rebuilding projects across this country of 18 million people are creating a need for new and replacement systems in many facilities.

To help facilitate relationships and partnerships between information systems suppliers and healthcare providers in Australia, the government created the Collaborative Health Informatics Centre (CHIC) last fall in Queensland. The organization’s mission is to provide both educational seminars and market research information to buyers and suppliers, and serve as a "one-stop shopping" source for IT firms interested in exporting to the entire Asian Pacific region, according to Yvonne Packbier, manager of CHIC. While CHIC is a membership-based organization designed to support the wealth of small Australian IT firms marketing to the healthcare industry, international firms may also benefit. Dorenfest & Associates, Chicago, is one U.S. firm already involved--the healthcare IT market research firm known for its database on integrated healthcare delivery systems in the U.S. is assisting CHIC in the development of a similar product for the Australian healthcare market, which will be available for a fee to CHIC members.

Even though the Australian provider community is PC-savvy and well-versed in Internet use, the industry has invested much less in IT--current estimates show average spending of one percent of operating budgets, according to Packbier. Ironically, this gives the country an advantage for future implementations since both developers and users can learn from past mistakes made in other countries. As a result, the Australian market is ripe for U.S. healthcare IT suppliers, says Sheldon Dorenfest, president of Dorenfest & Associates. "The United States, because of its heavy past investment, has created a huge portfolio of software and implementation experience that, under the right circumstances, is very valuable to Australian hospitals as they proceed into the next generation of automation."

More good news: The Australian government is expected to maintain an open-door, pro-business policy during the next five years, according to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, a London-based market research organization.

Dorenfest predicts that clinical automation will be the greatest opportunity for U.S. suppliers because of common needs and goals between the two countries--including ubiquitous access to patient data, analytical and decision support tools and the electronic patient record. He says that many organizations in both the public and private sectors are planning "major clinical systems acquisitions" in the next two years. Because of the dual problem of growing economic pressures on the healthcare system and the growing complexity of care environments, Australian providers are looking to IT as a key enabler for improved productivity, Packbier notes.

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Key Healthcare Data Comparing U.S. & Australia

United States Australia

Population in 1994 (in millions) 260.6 17.8
GDP in 1994 in U.S. Currency (in billions) $6,649.8 $322.4
Healthcare Expenditures in U.S. Currency (in billions) $949.4 $27.4
Healthcare Expenditures as a Percentage of GDP in 1994 14.2% 8.5%

Sources: 1996 OECD, HCFA, and Dorenfest & Associates


By Kathleen Kimball-Baker

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), academic medical centers and healthcare businesses have formed an alliance to boost the country’s competitive edge in the field of healthcare informatics. This month, the coalition is expected to name at least six regional centers of excellence that will form the U.K.’s Virtual Institute of Healthcare Informatics (VIHI).

The U.K. has a long history of healthcare IT innovation, particularly in clinical practice, but up until now, the British have not approached the industry in an entrepreneurial way, says Rick Jones, MD, a pathologist at the University of Leeds in the U.K. and a key organizer of the VIHI effort. In addition, he says, healthcare informatics in the UK has advanced in isolated niches among academia, the NHS and the vendor community.

The launch of the VIHI will link centers of excellence with a specialized focus, such as evidence-based decision making in one setting, artificial intelligence in another. Each center will be supported by strategic partnerships between universities, medical facilities and companies, including multinational pharmaceutical and IT product manufacturers.

Beyond the obvious benefits of integration and collaboration, says Jones, is the likelihood that groups will share information about what hasn’t worked--preventing the waste of scant research and development funds.