One statistic in great demand these days is a figure that captures the total market size for healthcare information systems.
Venture capitalists and analysts want to know the current state of commerce and the potential for growth, which help predict return on investment.
Vendors want to advertise their share of the market or assert that the sky's the limit for their products.
Journalists want to be able to explain why the computerization market is becoming such a slugfest and a magnet for new entrants.
But with the proliferation of new business needs for information, it's getting more difficult to define the market, much less measure it.
Longtime measurers, such as R.L. Johnson & Associates, adapt the longstanding definition of hospital application software to the expanding boundaries of the vendor market.
Within the past two years, the consulting firm's annual report has added a major category of clinical data repositories and related enabling software, and it has started to track a category of "other systems" that's stratified into 10 emerging technologies.
The ebb and flow of revenues among those newcomers and the traditional five classifications result in Johnson's net determination of the market's size and govern his projections. For 1995, total revenues by that definition were less than $3.5 billion.
But that total is dwarfed by the forecasts of other market observers and healthcare investor analysts.
For example, the consulting firm Sheldon I. Dorenfest & Associates, in a survey of healthcare providers released last year, computed the size of the market at $8.5 billion in 1994 based on data gathered during that year. The Chicago-based consulting firm projected $11 billion for 1996 and $13 billion for 1997.
But the Dorenfest survey's results are based on results gathered at the buyer end of the transaction, not the seller end, said Mitch Work, the firm's senior vice president. And it's a bigger market definition.
The firm interviews executives and managers at hospitals, physician groups and other healthcare institutions, Work said, adding that the defined group includes not only not-for-profit and investor-owned organizations but also military and veterans facilities.
"The hospital is not the primary driver of the market anymore, and if you go to the hospital for your figures, you're not going to get an accurate figure for the market," Work said.
The expenses reported by those facilities include contracts with outside consultants hired to help implement sophisticated new information systems and make them work with other installed software. The Johnson report doesn't include consultant revenues.
Telecommunications revenues also were beyond the scope of the report, even though the successful integration of diverse healthcare networks relies heavily on high-speed switching and cabling investments. Johnson said some networks were racking up expenses in communications that exceed costs of all computer software applications.
The Dorenfest report includes all cabling and telecommunications expenses.