Information systems, which saw a 13% increase in facilities over last year on the survey, moved to 10th from 13th in the ranking of department categories. In addition, as more healthcare facilities turn to IT to improve communications, transparency and patient flow, the amount of outsourcing is expected to increaseespecially since facilities are set to spend up to 23% of their budgets on business processing and IT services by 2011, according to industry research estimates.
Hospitals are increasingly relying on their contractors to provide even higher levels of service that help facilities comply with quality standards, especially as the healthcare environment opens to greater scrutiny by consumers and regulators. In many cases, that comes in the form of outsourced information technology, says John Lovelock, analyst and director of healthcare research at Gartner, which conducts research and analysis in technology trends.
IT is seen as an enabler, he says.
There is a significant move among facilities to outsource clinical IT needs, and as that grows, contractor partnerships play a larger role in quality at healthcare facilities, says Kevin Fickenscher, chief medical officer and executive vice president of healthcare transformation for Perot Systems Corp. In its first year of participating in the survey, the Plano, Texas-based IT consulting firm ranked first in the list of top information systems contractors and appears on the top 20 list of outsourcing firms as well. The company reported a 23.6% increase in IT client facilities, to 246 in 2006 from 199 in 2005.
Clients are asking IT contractors to provide the structure, software and analytical tools in categories such as quality, safety and evidence-based medicine to help the facilities turn data into the type of knowledge that has become more valuable as states and consumers continue to pressure hospitals to report on their performance, Fickenscher says. Everyone recognizes the outcomes movement is becoming real, he says.
This means contractors are going beyond basic technology functions, such as providing hardware and office maintenance products. IT contractors now have to be prepared to offer expertise in clinical and front-office business processes in addition to high levels of technical experience, Fickenscher says.
Officials at Siemens Medical Solutions, which reported a 23.3% increase in client facilities for 2006 and is No. 3 among the top IT systems contractors, agree that the ways IT is used in hospitals is becoming more dynamic.
While cost reduction is still a large component of outsourcing contracts, the partnership between client and contractor is more strategic, says Jim Way, vice president of managed services for the healthcare IT division at Siemens.
Healthcare providers are definitely looking for help, he says.
While technology is a hot-button issue in healthcare these days, other outsourcing services are in demand, and companies are relying on steady growth strategies to meet client needs. The total number of facilities contracting for rehabilitation services jumped 44.2% in 2006 and rose to fifth place in the list of top 20 department management categories this year, up from 16th place in last years survey.
RehabCare Group, St. Louis, which provides therapy management for post-acute care, held fourth place among the top 20 outsourcing firms this year, reporting a 52.1% increase in client facilities in 2006.
John Short, president and CEO of RehabCare, attributed its increase to a recent acquisition. The company purchased Symphony Health Services, Hunt Valley, Md., which provides therapy, nursing and consulting services for post-acute care and physical and occupational therapy to long-term-care facilities.
The purchase added rehabilitation program management at 500 skilled-nursing facilities and helped to strengthen RehabCares strategy of integrating its services in key geographic markets, according to a company statement.
Contractors can help to manage complicated business aspects, leaving hospitals free to concentrate on other aspects of providing care, Short says. Healthcare providers outsource their rehabilitation services in order to grow their programs and become more efficient.
We recognize that clients place a high value on our extensive experience in assisting them to implement clinical best practices, to address competition for patient services and to navigate the complexities inherent in managed-care contracting and government reimbursement systems, he says.
Foreign language services can be one of those complex segments of hospital care.