Becton, Dickinson and Co. is increasingly injecting itself into the healthcare information technology arena.
In October, the Franklin Lakes, N.J., needle manufacturing giant launched its BD VaxiNet Data Management Platform, a digital tracking system designed to help hospitals and public health agencies manage mass immunization programs. BD is marketing the program as a tool for dealing with the usual public health threats such as influenza, as well as potential bioterrorism emergencies such as smallpox.
The launch follows this past summer's unveiling of BD's patient identification system for the clinical laboratory, the company's first foray into the mushrooming bar-coding market. The system is aimed at reducing the need for extra laboratory tests attributed to misidentification of patients or mislabeling of specimens (June 16, p. 6). Originally scheduled to hit the market this fall, BD.id was launched in July, although as of last month, the company still had not signed any contracts with customers, says Beth McBride, marketing manager for the BD.id system.
Spurred by the quality movement and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, interloper companies are venturing into healthcare (May 5, p. 4). In BD's case, however, healthcare is not new, but IT is.
Healthcare IT provider Cerner Corp., Kansas City, Mo., has seen device manufacturers venture into the software market, only to exit after they "realize that the market potential for a stand-alone solution may not be as large as they had anticipated," says Arthur Hauck, Cerner's physician executive for laboratory medicine. Although IT programs that address patient safety are in demand, hospital organizations are frequently looking for integrated solutions that can address all areas of a hospital, he says.
"It's great that BD is coming into this market. We need patient-safety solutions," Hauck says. "But I'm not sure the scope is broad enough to be attractive to large healthcare organizations making those kind of purchasing decisions today."
IT companies like Cerner don't have to be looking over their shoulder for BD just yet. The company, which first dipped its toes into IT five years ago, has no overall strategy to reinvent itself as a software developer, says Charles Borgognoni, a BD spokesman. "Our biggest strategy here isn't IT per se, it's more along the lines of trying to leverage different core competencies in keeping with our overall company business strategy," Borgognoni says. "We're leveraging our expertise into new product lines, which is something our company has been about for its 106 years of existence."
The company would not disclose how much it invested to get the two IT enterprises off the ground, nor what proportion of BD's overall revenue they represent, Borgognoni says. In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, BD netted $547 million on $4.5 billion in revenue, a 12% margin.
A lesson from Sept. 11
The concept for a paperless system to track immunization efforts was born after the cataclysm of Sept. 11, 2001, says Zeil Rosenberg, BD's worldwide medical director for immunizations. There was a "sudden new interest in having systems that could facilitate mass immunizations, and we realized that it was one thing that the public health community and hospitals were scrambling to do, so we said, `Let's try to standardize and put in place a system,' " Rosenberg says. VaxiNet organizes the immunization process into five steps, beginning with enrollment and screening and ending with remote analysis of adverse events and follow-up.
Rosenberg says the system is designed to improve safety and increase efficiency. BD believes VaxiNet is the first data management program for the immunization market.
Two weeks ago BD unveiled the system in a bioterrorism readiness pilot at 770-bed Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center. The hospital has begun using VaxiNet to track hospital employee flu vaccinations in a demonstration project that BD said could serve as a national model for managing mass immunizations.
Rosenberg says it was impossible to offer even a ballpark price for the system because the cost depends on the scale of the customer's order. Also, BD is working with computer companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. to customize the system for hospitals, and the price is dependent on HP, he says.
With BD.id, the company is exploiting its market leadership in specimen collection, McBride says. So far, the company has been working with three hospitals that agreed to test the system over the past three years. McBride says she could not disclose the exact cost of the system, but unlike bar-coding systems designed for hospital pharmacies, which can cost millions of dollars, BD.id "costs well less than $1 million with proven (return on investment) data in eliminating errors."