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June 15, 2009

GE Waits with Healthcare Tech Industry for E-Medical Records Clarifications



As President Barack Obama settles into his position and begins to pursue some of the initiatives outlined in his campaign to win the White House, one of the major, critical issues emerging is the proposed creation of an electronic medical health record system.
 
Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package includes $19 billion for that effort, and IT insiders now are saying that transition will serve as a shot in the arm for many in the sector.
 
TMCnet has already reported that while some traditional technology names will benefit from this portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, healthcare IT companies that will see the biggest boost and represent the biggest opportunities for investors. One firm expects about $14 billion of the $19 billion to be available to technology vendors through purchases of technology gear and related services.
 
That’s a lot of money, and the tech world has taken notice.
 
Recently, GE announced that it’s spending more than $3 billion over the next six years to “help deliver better care to more people at lower cost.” The company says it’s committing $2 billion of financing and $1 billion in related technology and content to drive healthcare information technology and health in rural and underserved areas.
 
As The New York Times reports this week, that figure is a little misleading. According to Steve Lohr, while GE is ear-marking $2 billion for financing of health information technology, it has committed $100 million for loans to accelerate adoption of electronic health records.
 
“G.E. Capital has mostly been a headache for its parent company, General Electric, since the financial crisis hit last fall,” Lohr reports. “But on Monday, the finance arm will be putting its muscle behind G.E.’s healthcare unit as it tries to grab a hefty slice of the market for electronic health records, a prime target for economic stimulus spending by the Obama administration.”
 
Specifically, GE says it plans to offer doctors and hospitals loans (to buy GE’s own “Centricity” electronic health records, as software or SaaS (News - Alert)) with zero interest until those institutions begin receiving government money, typically in 2012.
 
Of course, the discussion surrounding e-health records has fueled talk of an overall, IP-based infrastructure upgrade that goes beyond equipment for records alone.
 
One industry expert told TMCnet in an interview that Obama’s focus on leveraging technology to improve healthcare also signals a larger philosophical shift that could include federal funding for services such as enhanced 911 – or “E911,” which uses location-based services to pinpoint the whereabouts of distressed parties trying to reach emergency responders.
 
According to Craig Settles, president and founder of Oakland-based Successful.com, the government’s effort – to make individual medical records more accessible by converting them to an electronic form – naturally dovetails with E911, since both involve “moving bits of data around” to improve healthcare.
 
“I think this is clear: It is understood by this administration that much of healthcare boils down to being able to get data and move it around, being able to respond to useful data, and quickly,” Settles, who focuses on how organizations and municipalities can leverage broadband technology, told TMCnet. “The most fundamental piece of data is a patient’s medical history – what do they have, what procedures have they undergone, what medications are they allergic to, and so on. In a hospital setting, that type of information determines the specifics of treatment and procedures. In an emergency situation, improving response is a critical factor, and that’s what E911 addresses so well.”
 
For Lohr, much of what needs to be worked out now in terms of e-medical records revolves around this uncertainty: The government still hasn’t defined the technology standards for what will be “qualified” electronic health records.
 
“The definition will presumably include being able to share data and as well as automated reporting of certain measurements of health-care quality,” Lohr reports. “The details of the new standards will be crucial – and won’t be known for sure until the end of this year. To remove the technological uncertainty, G.E. is issuing a guarantee that its electronic health records will meet the government standards, regardless of the final details.”
 

Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users.


Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan


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