In early 2008, Barry Stone became the new CEO at Greenville, S.C.-based Agfa Health Care, leading a staff of more than 15,000 worldwide. Previously, Stone headed Agfa’s United Kingdom business. He spoke recently with Healthcare Informatics Contributing Editor Mark Hagland about the opportunities and challenges ahead in the healthcare imaging IT sector.
MH: How would you define Agfa right now and its position in the industry?
BS: Agfa obviously has a very long and proud tradition in the imaging areas in the healthcare industry. We have a longstanding business, with over 100 years of supplying imaging, including film and digitizing technologies, which are still a proud part of our offerings. Having said that, Agfa has been at the forefront of leading technology changes, through our CR (computed radiology) systems and application software, PACS, and all the other informatics solutions, which have been core to Agfa for over ten years now, and are going to continue to be core going forward. And now we see strategically, departmental and imaging specialization is not the way of the future; the way of the future will be a much more holistic set of solutions that will be multi-departmental and even enterprise-wide, and our portfolio has developed forward to include those.
MH: How do you see the competition among the large vendors evolving?
BS: In the IT space, there’s still a place for specialization, departmental specialization, and clinical excellence. It has definitely driven a lot of improvements in IT applications, clinically, in the past. But there will be much more need for integrated solutions, and for strategies that are multi-departmental and enterprise-wide, in order to achieve single sign-ons and single points of contact for connections to departmental solutions and to the EMR, and back out across the physician space.
MH: Do you anticipate vendor consolidation?
BS: I think there has been consolidation of niche and departmental vendors, and that will continue. In terms of the large HIT and CIS vendors, I wouldn’t want to speculate. But I do think there will be more consolidation of the niche and departmental vendors, because CIOs will be looking for a more holistic view of the information needs of the hospital overall.
MH: What are Agfa’s competitive strengths and weaknesses in the current market?
BS: I think our strengths and weaknesses are probably the same thing; we have a facet that’s strength, but could also be a weakness if taken from a certain standpoint. Our strengths are obviously the credentials we have with our PACS solution and imaging technologies, and our application knowledge within the radiology department and field. But we always have to guard against that not becoming a weakness, that we don’t become pigeonholed as a departmental solution. We have one reference site for HIS/EMR in the U.S. In fact, we will be building out our HIS/CIS portfolio in the U.S. and globally. So the critical thing for us is to build out enterprise-wide applications from our strength in imaging, but not to be pigeonholed in the market.
MH: It’s a bit of a challenge, right?
BS: Yes, certainly. But we’ve always worked from a very independent place in the imaging environment. Integration and interoperability are in the DNA, as it were, of our operations. And our capability in terms of connectivity and interoperability is what will enable us to differentiate as we continue to develop solutions.
MH: On the exhibit floors at conferences such as HIMSS, how do CIOs sort through the language of all this to understand what people are offering? How do CIOs know what’s real?
BS: The only way to establish what’s real is to talk to other users. Every buyer will do that, and will say, ‘I want to understand your reference size, etc.’ As I would see it, that’s the best way I know to get behind the sizzle and really understand the sausage.
MH: What will be the biggest trends that will move the market or shape it, going forward?
BS: What’s really going to change the market is that integrated access, workflow, and knowledge will be essential. It’s critical that we look not only across departments, but enterprise-wide for integrated access, workflow and knowledge. Those will be the key things we see in the next five years — pushing us to provide a truly integrated workflow that can bring benefits to the clinicians and ultimately to the patients.
MH: Within the imaging area, how do you see competition shaking out in the next few years?
BS: Imaging is a very central part of the workflow with regard to a lot of clinical applications, but even imaging applications have been pretty department-specific — radiology-specific, cardiology-specific. The expansion of those capabilities to work across the entire enterprise will be critical. It will be essential that you can work across those different dimensions. And the ability to work independently, to work with standards, and to work inter-connectively with other departments, will be critical to operations going forward.