The last bastion

The last bastion

The IT industry is clamouring to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered by digitising Australia’s ailing healthcare industry. But will the strategy work?

Telstra will make a margin from the device sale, but also benefit from increased use of its network. "Certainly you need more than 256k connections for some of these applications - more like one and two megabytes," Aris said. "Doctors will need to upgrade to business-grade broadband with backup, storage and security."

There are many other healthcare IT projects predicated on wireless technology. Whereas in the past they carried around chunky paper directories, today's doctors and pharmacists have started to use real-time, up-to-date online versions of MIMS, a popular medicine information directory, on their PDA.

Roving community nurses in regional areas like Ballarat, meanwhile, are gaining an extra two hours a day of serving patients - thanks simply to a notebook computer and wireless laptop card. Wireless also has a huge potential within hospitals, according to McCabe, especially in the area of 'in-hospital asset management'.

"I'm talking about RFID on everything," he said. "It's the application of spatial or location-specific data on everything from mobile medical equipment, beds and bedpans, to the staff and the patients themselves.

"The cost of this technology is coming down dramatically and the benefits are obvious." McCabe also sees big opportunities in analytical software. The same business intelligence software developed by the likes of Business Objects or Cognos, he said, has wide application in healthcare.

"As more and more patient data is collected, practitioners can start making smarter decisions around deployment of assets and diagnosis," he said. "You can get wonderful results. If you have business analytic skills, this is an area of lucrative growth."

Data mining, Gardiner said, can be used to help augment a clinician's capacity to make good decisions.

"Practitioners are faced with so much information, they need IT systems to alert them to potential problems," he said. "The system might, for example, alert a doctor that what they have just prescribed is going to have side effects due to a patient's medical history or allergies."

A challenging industry

While opportunities for channel partners in healthcare abound, the industry isn't without its challenges.

The first major challenge, at least according to those trying to sell into the industry, is constrained budgets.

"A lot of healthcare providers are grappling with budgets for IT being more limited than other industries," EMC's ISV manager, Mark Read, said. "The data they are protecting is very important, but because of budget constraints there aren't a lot of people to manage the IT infrastructure."

This funding, and most decisions around healthcare for that matter, comes from a wide variety of stakeholders.

"Engaging in health is difficult," Dembo said. "Unlike a bank, the buck doesn't stop in one place - there are multiple stakeholders in organisations that are loosely coupled. That is why the sales cycle is long."

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