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?

As of last month, Microsoft had recruited almost 1000 channel partners in Australia targeting health, from smaller companies right through to the likes of Dimension Data, Fujitsu, Data#3 and Avanade. The vendor has built up its local healthcare dedicated sales team from four people two years ago to 12 today.

Microsoft has undertaken a range of initiatives to win over the healthcare vertical. It has built a Biztalk-based piece of middleware called the Health Connection Engine, to be used as a foundation for eHealth delivery, and made it available for free via open source. It has also published a series of whitepapers called the Connected Health Framework, again made available for free. It has launched a health-specific search engine called MedStory, and in the US has launched a site called HealthVault which allows consumers to upload their own health history onto the Web.

Microsoft is also working in collaboration with the UK's National Health Service (NHS) to develop a single standard user interface - to be used across all NHS systems - which will again be made available free of charge to other ISVs to incorporate into their solutions.

"There has never been any consistency in healthcare about how data is presented application to application," Dembo said. "A nurse in one hospital has to re-learn systems at the next. We are working on a more consistent and intuitive interface. We are industrialising IT for clinicians."

Microsoft has also acquired a 50-module Hospital Information System and related patient administration system that it will sell under the AMALGA brand.

"Hospitals are baulking at the price of solutions on the menu," Dembo said. "At between $50 million and $150 million, they are too expensive and overly architected for your average health practice.

"We believe we can disrupt the market. We realise that this is an opportunity to engage the channel, from Accenture down to the two-man shop. We are building visibility around our products, encouraging partners to profile themselves, running deeper dive technical sessions to show partners how to build solutions out of these products."

Not everybody, however, is convinced that it's the cost of applications that's the barrier towards achieving a more efficient health system.

"The problems have nothing to do with software being too expensive," King said. "That's a furfy.

"Intel and Microsoft have got it wrong. It's not about a piece of technology. This is not going to be fixed by an IT guy with a bit of software. I think Microsoft is being opportunist - it sees dollars in this industry and thinks 'why not get involved?'"

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