Healthcare information system vendors are beginning to assemble their own versions of network integration to stay alive in the rush to computerize.
During last week's Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference and in the month leading up to the show in Phoenix, Ariz., at least a half dozen partnership agreements were announced by software vendors.
In most cases, a vendor with a more comprehensive product has fit a key missing piece into their mix from another vendor instead of producing it in-house.
For example, Shared Medical Systems Corp., which markets the Allegra healthcare information system, spent 18 months evaluating whether it could develop a managed-care-oriented component to perform such tasks as contract management and advance authorization of care by insurers. It concluded that it "didn't have the expertise," said Marvin Cadwell, SMS executive vice president.
Last week, SMS announced it will integrate Oakland, Calif.-based Health System Design Corp.'s Diamond managed-care system into its software lineup.
Healthcare consultants said the strategy for vendors is to affiliate in a way that makes merged information systems more functional together than either would be alone. "Nobody's got the whole package," said Greg Shorr, M.D., a Salt Lake City-based healthcare consultant with Coopers & Lybrand.
It's also a survival tactic, said Philip M. Lohman, a consultant with First Consulting Group. Now that healthcare's sectors are merging, vendors that don't have a comprehensive range of products "will be out of the market or in a very small niche, in which they'll be price takers instead of price makers," said Mr. Lohman.
The lure for hospitals and healthcare networks is the prospect that vendors will have worked out the bugs of meshing two products in advance of purchase.
But hospitals will be skeptical of such promises, said Frank Cavanaugh, a healthcare consultant with Coopers & Lybrand. Vendors have marketed their products together in the past, "but that didn't mean the systems came together," he said.
Most were examples of joint marketing, not joint development, said Michael Kreitzer, a Coopers & Lybrand consultant. Today's partnerships will have to prove they're truly integrating systems from separate vendors, he said.
Besides the SMS deal, new arrangements include the integration of a computerized diagnosis and treatment aid from PKC Corp. into the clinical management system of IDX Systems Corp. Also, Health Payment Reviews' Patterns of Treatment clinical software will be integrated into the Medstat Group's financial decision support system for managed-care businesses.