Five Trends Reshaping The Health Care Channel Right Now

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The state of the health-care IT channel as it relates to VARs is best expressed as a balance: on the one side, a dramatic increase in overall opportunities thanks to outside factors like the federal stimulus, and on the other, a need for solution providers to re-evaluate the role they can play in those opportunities.

As many vendors, integrators and VARs told at this month's Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Atlanta, health-care IT has long since graduated from a place where a mix of hardware resale, software packages and maintenance services will win lucrative deals.

HIMSS is not traditionally a channel-centric show, but this year more than others, the takeaways for health-care IT channel observers were many. Here were five that emerged after three days of sessions and interviews:

1. Physician Practice Is A Bull's Eye

For electronic medical records (EMR), the best play for regional VARs is in small-office physician practices between 2 and 20 seats. Like hospitals and large clinics, the physician practices and ambulatory care settings must demonstrate a proper, interoperable, "meaningfully useful" EMR or risk losing out on Medicare and Medicaid incentives provided by HITECH, the health-care IT portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

HP is among vendors that have already taken advantage of the channel possibilities, having early in January announced a new partnership with McKesson to offer packages of HP hardware and McKesson EMR and practice management systems through the channel.

Tech Data was the chosen distributor for the HP-EMR bundles, and Barb Miller, vice president, government, healthcare and technical services, said it's indicative of a greater trend to get at corners of the health-care IT market that the big integrators don't already own and that the broader VAR channel can service.

"We do see a lot of these folks becoming more channel savvy," Miller said, referring to McKesson and other software vendors. "They have their own VAR channel already, but they see an opportunity, as do we, to get engaged because they can't get to the one-, or two-, or four-office doctors' offices."

ARRA has driven much of that interest, Miller suggested. Ever since the stimulus funding was first announced in February 2009, Tech Data, along with other distributors like Ingram Micro and Synnex, have been tailoring vertical-centric VAR programs to help solution providers try to identify opportunities.

Among recent Tech Data additions are grant writing and grant tracking services to its Healthcare Specialized Business Unit (SBU), and also the debut of its TechMed Vendor Affiliate Program, in which Tech Data partners with select health-care specialists to design VAR programs around medical software needs. Sage is Tech Data's first announced partner in the venture.

"We're not pretending to be the health-care experts, but we are here to evangelize the channel," Miller said of Tech Data's HIMSS participation. "There are plenty of ways resellers can play here that aren't always clear."

2. EMR Vendors Are Reaching Into The Channel

Neil Simon, COO of Aprima Medical Software, said that to EMR and practice management software vendors like Aprima, the channel is precisely the quickest route to physician practice and ambulatory setting customers: the health-care SMBs, in other words.

"Aprima is a big believer in the reseller channel," he explained. "VARs can enhance what we offer for software whether it's through customer services or packaging what we have as part of overall deployments."

Aprima does about 30 percent of its business through VARs, but now that meaningful use criteria is being established and physicians are starting to make buying decisions, both Aprima and many of its competitors in the EMR space are looking to solution providers to be feet on the street.

"These are management systems," he said of Aprima's software packages. "This is not something you can just buy off the shelf."


Next: What The Health Care Solution Provider Will Soon Look Like

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