The IT industry has been developing innovations for the healthcare industry for a few years now, and currently there is a lot of interest and activity in software solutions for this sector. Government healthcare systems are under ever increasing efficiency and quality pressures as the expectations of consumers, payers, and governments regarding cost containment and improved quality of care increase. This has sparked the current healthcare debate in the USA, China, Australia, and other countries and has put a spotlight on the opportunities for improvements in healthcare delivery globally. All of these activities are revealing global trends in the industry: the introduction of electronic health records (e-health) and an increased focus on prevention.
John Papandrea, head of Healthcare Sector at SAP, joined SAP in August 2008 and brings with him 22 years of experience consulting C-level executives on IT for healthcare. “By and large there are healthcare markets that are being created as a result of citizen demand, cost concerns, and historically low adoption in healthcare solutions. This provides an opportunity for SAP. We need to take a broad, global perspective on healthcare and maximize our opportunities globally, while at the same time meeting regional market requirements,” John says.
Improved Quality, Lower Costs, More Transparency
According to Papandrea, the traditional role of the key players in the healthcare industry is changing. Members of the healthcare ecosystem that have not historically provided direct patient care want to engage more directly with their consumers – the patient. Additionally, non-ecosystem companies are looking to healthcare as an opportunity to expand their businesses. This “healthcare convergence” will require that leading vendors such as SAP support a higher degree of collaboration within and around the healthcare ecosystem.
The challenges that healthcare companies are facing, are increasingly global in nature. There has been a push toward higher quality of service, while ubiquitous pressure to save costs has given new impetus to the global players to move in the healthcare market. By partnering with local hospitals and marketing its products more intensively in Southeast Asia, Microsoft has intensified its involvement in the Asian market.
SAP has a unique footprint at healthcare providers. We have a large number of clients in EMEA, good penetration in Asia, and we are gaining focus in the U.S., John points out. Additionally, SAP has good penetration in the life sciences industry, with a strong customer base in EMEA, especially among tier one life sciences companies. John is also encouraged by the potential in the fast-growing BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries, whose healthcare systems are not as mature as in Western Europe.
Standardization and Automation
Currently, IT systems in hospitals and other healthcare providers vary dramatically from country to country, and even among various healthcare companies. IT solutions are often homegrown systems. Papandrea predicts that there will be a move towards more vendor-provided solutions that support best practices and also conform to industry standards for communications, such as HL7 (Health Level 7), GS1 (Global Standards One), and IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise). This move towards standardization will occur, “not only within hospitals but externally across physician practices, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies,” he says.
In the long term, Papandrea sees three forces in the healthcare industry that the industry should address: “The cost pressure of healthcare is significant. Finding ways to provide care in a more cost-effective fashion is one issue. Along with this cost pressure comes the pressure to provide higher quality at a lower cost. Finally, the third challenge in the healthcare industry is the shortage of skilled resources.” According to John, “This will lead to a requirement of and dependence on more automation and more workflow tools that will assist the provision of care in a high-quality fashion. To be successful in the long term, the applications we provide to the market should assist healthcare providers to be more efficient in this environment,” John says.
Electronic health records: a step in the right direction
With the United States joining the ranks of countries pushing for the implementation of electronic health records, the digitization of healthcare related information seems imminent. But this is only a first step. “It is our opinion that electronic records are a great start, but they need to do more than just store information; they need to act as a platform on which IT tools and applications can act proactively to identify patients in need of healthcare,” Papandrea says. ”A country or company could spend a significant amount on electronic health records, but unless it understands how this data can be used to improve healthcare delivery, then it will never reap any true benefit apart from improved access by care providers.
There are several ideas as to how these records can be put to use to increase quality and reduce costs in healthcare. One approach relies on prevention as opposed to treatment. “If you can keep the population healthy and help get chronically ill people out of the hospital, you can significantly reduce the need for costly in-patient procedures and medications,” Papandrea says.
“With our SAP BusinessObjects analytical tools and other existing SAP applications, we support healthcare providers with workflow enablement and the analytical insight required for organizations to move from treatment to prevention.”
Emergency Medical Associates, operator of a network of hospitals in the New York City area, is one such example of the analytical insight that SAP applications provide. EMA uses their software to track H1N1 as soon as the patients are seen by a doctor. In the end, IT provides benefits for the patient.
There still remains great unused potential for digitalization and convergence in the healthcare industry, and market forces will continue to drive these trends in the coming decade. IT providers whose solutions benefit the entire healthcare ecosystem and value chain will reap the benefits of this rich opportunity.