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Electronic medical records (EMR) have been around in one form or another for more than 30 years, but there hasn't been widespread adoption of EMR-related technologies because of price, a perceived lack of return on investment, and patient privacy issues.
That's no doubt why, according to a recent survey by the New England Journal of Medicine, only 1.5 percent of U.S. hospitals currently have a comprehensive electronic records system that covers all clinical units, while another 7.6 percent have some form of electronic records system in at least one clinical unit.
However, thanks to the recent passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, part of the Obama Administration's huge American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that may be changing. And sensing a big opportunity, the developers and resellers of healthcare technologies, especially those relating to digitizing, storing, and managing EMR, have been positioning themselves as just what the doctor ordered.
EMC, IBM Jockey for Position
Who are likely to be the big winners in the EMR derby? It is too early to say, but several leading storage and data management vendors, namely IBM (NYSE: IBM), EMC (NYSE: EMC), HP (NYSE: HPQ), Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), all of whom have formed alliances with EMR and EHR (electronic health records) software vendors (of which there are literally hundreds), appear to be leading the pack.
Indeed, when asked which storage vendors were best positioned and best able to handle EMR right now, Christine Taylor, an analyst at the Taneja Group who covers information management and compliance, cited EMC and IBM.
"HP can do it, as can Sun, Pillar Data Systems, Compellent and FalconStor," she said. "These guys can all handle small- and mid-sized EMR implementations perfectly well. But once your EMR evolves, you need something that's scalable and secure and high performance.
"EMC and IBM have already partnered closely and really packaged themselves as a deal with EMR vendors," she continued. "They're pretty far ahead in the field."
And while HP is very active in EMR, she said the company appeared to be more focused on early stage EMR management, helping healthcare providers "get in a mass of information quickly and efficiently into an EMR system," which she said was valuable, particularly to hospitals that need to digitize a lot of information quickly and securely. But for healthcare organizations that are past that initial stage, that are looking for high performance as well as "the highest level of scalability and security, I'm looking at IBM and EMC," she said.
Rx for Hype?
Indeed, IBM, which already has a substantial presence in healthcare facilities, has been flooding the airwaves with its ads for "smarter healthcare," while behind the scenes OEMing and forming strategic partnerships with EMR software vendors.
EMC, which also has a healthcare presence, has similarly partnered with EMR, EHR, PACS, and HIS solution providers and has a section of its Web site dedicated to Electronic Medical Records and Electronic Health Records.
IBM and EMC are far from alone in positioning or repositioning themselves as preferred EMR system providers or partners. Sun Microsystems recently announced it had partnered with BridgeHead Software, a provider of health data management software, to create HEAT, Healthcare Enterprise Archiving Technology.
And HP has a strategic OEM partnership with Bycast, a provider of storage virtualization software for large-scale digital archives (a company IBM has also partnered with), particularly in the healthcare arena, to provide medical image storage and archiving to healthcare providers.
Not to be left out of the $20 billion EMR treasure hunt, Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC) has been busy promoting its storage virtualization solutions as a way for healthcare providers to more easily manage large amounts of stored data, especially electronic medical records and medical images.
Microsoft recently made big news when its HealthVault records storage management system was selected by the Mayo Clinic to power its new Mayo Clinic Health Manager. And Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has been promoting Google Health, its service that allows users to collect, store and manage their own medical records online.
Indeed, talk to any storage or storage virtualization or data management and archiving vendor and they'll probably tell you they have the latest, greatest EMR solution or are working on it.
And maybe they do, said Brian Babineau, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. But he also sees a lot of hype.
"EMC, IBM, HP, NetApp you name the storage vendor they've all done hardware integration with healthcare applications because there's a lot of data there. But that existed before the stimulus package," Babineau said.
The difference now, he said, is you suddenly have "the combination of the stimulus package, which has designated money for electronic health records, and healthcare providers aren't as subject to recession as Wall Street banks. So now everybody's talking about healthcare and electronic records."
However, when pressed as to who and what to watch for in the healthcare IT and EMR space, Babineau pointed to Bycast and BridgeHead Software on the data management side, and said that the management and storage of medical images (CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays, for example), or imaging technologies, was where the real growth and opportunity in healthcare IT resides.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to EnterpriseStorageForum.com and writes about technology.
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