A year after it was acquired by technology giant Siemens, a flagging healthcare software vendor has unveiled an ambitious plan to reinvent itself as an agent of clinical and financial workflow improvement in healthcare institutions.
For Siemens Medical Solutions Health Services Corp., formerly Shared Medical Systems, the creation of a new product line puts it back in the hunt for business after a few years of stagnant growth and slow product enhancement compared with competitors, said Barry Hieb, a research director with Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based information technology research and advisory firm.
A comprehensive and interlocking package of new computer applications, built on a foundation of Internet technology, is designed to enhance the quality of doctor decisions and coordinate all the resulting orders and tasks that ripple through a hospital.
For providers, the attempt to tame inefficiencies in the delivery of care offers the potential to manage expenses in new ways, said Perry Pepper, chief executive officer of Chester County Hospital, West Chester, Pa., which is among four test sites for the workflow initiative.
The others are Susquehanna Health System, Williamsport, Pa.; Carilion Health System, Roanoke, Va.; and Universal Health Services, King of Prussia, Pa.
"We've hit the wall in many respects trying to cut costs," Pepper said. "All the easy fixes in cost reduction are in place."
As an independent company, Malvern, Pa.-based SMS "had a reputation in the past of being stodgy," Hieb said. "SMS just sort of seemed to be dozing along, not aggressively adding things that their clients needed."
Critics of SMS' traditional caution said the company's past reluctance to take risks was partly behind the series of events leading up to the acquisition last year (May 8, 2000, p. 24).
But during the past year, information professionals and medical advisers from SMS and its new parent worked to come up with a "breakthrough innovation" that would go beyond computer operation and build "the engine that runs healthcare," said Frank Lavelle, president and CEO of the Siemens information services unit. "It represents a cultural change in healthcare and a departure from all existing views of healthcare as we know it."
Siemens "has propelled SMS forward" in the nick of time, said Thomas Handler, M.D., a Gartner research director.
However, prospective customers still will have to wait for at least a year. Siemens is scheduled to deliver the first software to test sites early in 2002, and the company is forecasting that the new product line, called Soarian, will be generally available in the first quarter of 2003.
Shares of Siemens stock rose $1.64 to $46.50 on Oct. 23, the day of the product announcement.