Healthcare insiders –and even casual observers—know that the health IT sector is overcrowded with too many vendors that have overlapping functionality. This fragmented and crowded health IT market confuses buyers and leads to costly and inefficient implementations of technology that is intended to improve efficiencies. A recent blog post by John Lynn (@techguy) provides a useful illustration of how the fragmentation affects provider networks and alliances. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be the CIO who had to deal with multiple IT vendors within a single institution, never mind dealing with the entire mosaic of vendors by function and across institutions in a formal or informal network of providers.
So, it is easy to predict consolidation between competing players that serve the same functions. Just last week there were two acquisitions within the medical transcription sector that illustrate this trend: Nuance Communications acquired WebMedx and MedQuist acquired M*Modal.
IT won’t deliver true workflow efficiencies—and accompanying productivity gains—unless vendors take a systems view of processes and focus on improving the workflow instead of simply digitizing existing paper-based processes. I’m not saying anything new here. Anyone who has read Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Prescription or has lived through a disappointing EMR implementation project understands the problem. We need a rationalization of vendors and solutions across the entire system. Vertical consolidation within each subsector reduces the confounding number of options for buyers, but doesn’t necessarily solve the larger problem of improving productivity (and by productivity I mean better outcomes and improved efficiency).
In a tangentially related event last week, the Society for Participatory Medicine (#S4PM) held a tweetchat that included some discussion of doctor-patient communication when the doctor is facing a computer screen. Unfortunately, existing EHR/EMR systems haven’t been optimized for the doctor-patient encounter. Voice input, touch screens, direct-from-device input, and even Kinect-style input all represent technologies that could vastly improve the data collection process during, before and after patient visits. Although it’s a small step, I am hopeful that the recent acquisitions in the medical transcription segment allow the consolidated companies more leeway to formulate a wider range of productivity-enhancing voice-data solutions and are representative of future merger activity to come.