Health alliance VHA this week will announce another in a series of software marketing agreements reached as part of an initiative to assess information technology on the market and promote the software it determines to be the best for specific business needs.
The latest signing involves a software program to automate clinical pathways. That's a term for a coordinated plan of treatment that aims to increase collaboration among caregivers and improve the efficiency of care rendered to patients throughout an episode of treatment.
The computer program singled out by VHA is called CareTaker, created by Strategic Systems Corp. of Shrewsbury, Mass.
According to VHA, the program provides complete automated clinical pathways for any clinical environment, including long-term care.
Comprising a range of intervention from invasive procedures to routine pain medication and antibiotics, adherence to clinical paths helps providers monitor clinical outcomes and improve administrative operations by reducing unnecessary variations in the way care is delivered for the same condition.
A study conducted last year by Andersen Consulting, and cited by VHA, said more than 80% of healthcare organizations are using clinical pathways. But only 19% are capturing the analytical benefits of the monitoring process by computerizing the reporting and feedback of variations from the pathways and the reasons given for the variations.
In addition to tracking clinically approved pathways as a component of the software, CareTaker also provides templates that can be used to build new pathways or refine established care paths to account for institutional or individual practice patterns, VHA said.
Software developers are rising to the emerging business need to reduce costs of clinical care through better management. The recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society annual convention in Atlanta included a handful of exhibitors trying to stake an early claim on that business.
Vendors also are commissioning polls to establish the state of the market for such computer aids. The Andersen Consulting study, for example, was paid for by one of CareTaker's competitors, Decision Support Systems of Charlotte, N.C.
VHA's partnership with Strategic Systems Group targets the information technology area of care automation, one of eight categories of computerization VHA is assessing as the most crucial areas identified by the 1,300 healthcare organizations belonging to the Irving, Texas-based alliance.
The broad category of care automation also includes such computer-assisted tasks as clinical care documentation and access to information at the point of care, said James Burgess, one of two vice presidents of technology solutions at VHA.
In January, VHA signed an agreement to market and sell a point-of-care clinical information system called Continuum 2000 from Emtek Health Care Systems, a Tempe, Ariz.-based subsidiary of Motorola Corp.
VHA launched its $22 million assessment initiative in September 1995 by announcing agreements with vendors covering three targeted software categories: "physician linkage," healthcare resource management and comparative databases.
It's working on a recommendation for clinical repository products, Burgess said. Once that's completed, VHA will move on to software for appointment and resource scheduling throughout a healthcare network.
Although repeatedly cited as a critical need, scheduling has been delayed as a VHA priority, Burgess said. "Our perspective, confirmed at HIMSS, was the market is still immature in that area," he said.
Products abound to centralize scheduling, but member feedback has emphasized having the option to keep scheduling decentralized but linked throughout a healthcare network, Burgess said. Information executives especially want to be able to merge departmental computerization efforts that are working well but may not be compatible with a centralized software package, he said.