Patient Safety Concerns Driving Bar-Code, Wireless Solutions

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Patient safety has eclipsed HIPAA compliance as the top concern of health-care IT executives in the wake of an industry report showing that medical errors are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, according to a survey by the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Released at the society's annual conference here this week, the survey found that 52 percent of the 300 IT executives polled ranked the implementation of technology to reduce medical errors as the top IT priority today.

The executives placed computer-based practitioner order entry (CPOE) systems and bar-coded medication management among the top three most important applications for their facilities over the next three years, the study said. Both applications are deemed important for reducing errors in ordering and administering medication to patients.

Among first-time exhibitors at the conference were bar-code solution providers, which hope to tap a perceived surge of interest in solutions for patient-safety applications. The conference drew 686 exhibitors, up 13.5 percent from last year, while first-day attendance was up 15 percent to 17,600, according to conference officials.

"The applications are catching up to the technology," said Michael DeGroff, director of integrated solutions at Computype, a Tucson, Ariz.-based bar-code application solution provider. "It's all about patient safety."

Computype's business in the health-care provider market--where pharmacists are beginning to bar-code prescriptions and hospitals are bar-coding patient records--is up about 50 percent over last year, DeGroff said. This year represented the first time that HIMSS had a bar-code section in the show, he added. "It's been very good," he said. "We're getting the kind of leads we expected."

The HIMSS survey showed that the use of wireless information systems, along with data security tools and XML, was up more than 15 percent over the prior year. A number of wireless solution providers and ISVs, in fact, participated in the conference. Medix Resources, New York, showed off its application and hosted service, which enables doctors to order prescriptions for patients from BlackBerry devices.

Compliance with the Health-care Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, also was high on the agenda of show attendees, particularly compliance with privacy rules looming in April. In the survey, HIPAA ranked second behind patient safety as a top priority.

Another key survey finding was that health-care organizations' use of ASPs could double over the next two years. David Koretz, CEO of BlueTie, a Rochester, N.Y.-based provider of hosted e-mail and collaboration applications, said the company had 200 visitors to its booth in a few hours. "It's been phenomenal," he said.

Health care has become BlueTie's largest vertical over the last six months because BlueTie can offer e-mail service that's compliant with HIPAA privacy rules, Koretz said. "It's the highway to getting instant compliance," he said.

Similarly, Cambridge Computer Services attended the show to drum up business in the health-care market, where HIPAA is driving demand for imaging, archival and disaster-recovery solutions. "It's a good market in that they all have HIPAA compliance issues that they are up against," said Jacob Farmer, CTO for the Boston-based storage integrator.

However, health-care applications vendors and integrators exhibiting at the show proved to be better potential customers for Cambridge than the end-user attendees, Farmer said, adding that end users were primarily seeking turnkey solutions.

Ed Turetzky, an open systems information consultant for Mainline Information Systems, Tallahassee, Fla., agreed. "Most of the end users here are looking more for an applications solution," Turetzky said. "We're using [the show] as a way to make partnerships with other software vendors. From our perspective, we're doing fine."

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