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Editor's Notes: What Happens When a Golden Age Declines? Time for a Future-Focused Reset

May 27, 2016
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I am currently absorbed in a fascinating work of history—Spain: the Centre of the World 1519-1682, by British historian Robert Goodwin. It offers a very rich analysis of what in Spain is known as the “Siglo de Oro,” or its “Golden Age,” the century-plus when Spain was the most powerful country in the western world. As the book’s front jacket notes, “Four hundred years ago, Spain was at the centre of the largest empire in history. Its lands, the spoils of bold adventure in the Americas and the East Indies and royal inheritance in Europe, stretched from the Netherlands, Bohemia, Germany and Italy across the seas to Mexico, Peru and California in one direction, and in the other to the Philippines. Spaniards travelled the world in the service of their king…” It was also a time of exceptional achievement in the arts, as it was the age of El Greco, Velazquez, Cervantes, and Lope de Vega.

Still, the essentially shortsighted conservatism of the country’s monarchs and culture sowed the seeds of Spain’s decline, even as its dominant rulers, including Charles V, and his son, Philip II, exercised unprecedented power over millions of people in many lands. As Goodwin notes, “The final decade of Philip II’s reign was a desperately grim period in Castilian history. Modern historians, in their arguments over whether there really was a ‘Decline of Spain’ at all, have tended to see the rot set in during these years. Contemporaries were equally gloomy, as well they might have been. God had forsaken Castile’s quintessentially Catholic crusade, the Invincible Armada, in 1588; in 1596, Protestant English ‘pirates’ again raided Cadiz; and as the dawn of a new century drew near, Spaniards developed the habit of greeting one another with words pregnant with dread: ‘May God save you from the plague spreading down from Castile, and the hunger coming up from Andalusia.’” Not exactly a happy-faced kind of benediction, that.

One key element in this is understanding that following templates for activity that succeeded in the past is no recipe for success in the future—whether that be with regard to building a country or advancing an industry. The current moment in the vendor sector healthcare IT seems redolent of such signs. While many established vendor companies are doing extremely well in the U.S. healthcare IT market, a shifting policy landscape is also leading to considerable changes in business organization and the alignment of providers and payers. And those changes, along with rapid advances in such technological areas as cognitive computing, semantic interoperability, and cloud computing, offer promise to emerging vendor competitors, while simultaneously threatening some working assumptions about existing technologies and technology providers. In order to move with the market, vendors will need to be savvy and stay in touch with the bigger policy, payment, business, and clinical trends in healthcare that are rapidly emerging these days.

In that regard, we at Healthcare Informatics are once again delighted to share with our readers our annual cover story package around the Healthcare Informatics 100, a unique compendium of IT vendor company data and information, along with additional annual content, including our “Most Interesting Vendors” and “Up and Comers” articles, which can be seen here. The industry is changing quickly, and it’s always worthwhile to look at what changes are taking place on the vendor side of healthcare IT.

In the meantime, it also remains true that keeping up with the bigger picture is important in all spheres. It seems clear that the Spanish monarchs of the “Siglo de Oro” could have used a bit of strategic market analysis, however that might have looked in their day, too.