Are IT Vendors Losing Their Marbles?

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders Media, February 5, 2008
I pose this question after sitting through a press conference on the "2007 Healthcare IT Sanity Check," a survey undertaken by HIMSS Analytics and O'Keeffe & Company. Their survey analyzed how CIOs shop for goods and services in the vast IT marketplace and how well IT vendors meet expectations. The answer, in short, is not very well. When they go shopping for new systems, CIOs, it seems, are Doubting Thomases.

Healthcare IT executives want the facts. And they prefer to get them from objective sources, namely their peers. The IT purchasers surveyed cited information from peers as their No. 1 source of reliable information. Vendor marketing came in way down the list at No. 10. The message from the CIOs: Stop spamming me, tone down the sales pitches, and give me real-world case studies of how your product works.

I can certainly relate to all three gripes, especially now that February is upon us. This month marks the annual conference hosted by HIMSS, the parent company of HIMSS Analytics. The conference is a double-edged sword. Its educational sessions--the ones presented by hospital, payer, and medical group executives, that is--are remarkable in their breadth and depth. The industry is rife with examples of organizations using IT to streamline operations and improve care delivery. And the HIMSS meeting is still the best place to hear about them.

In contrast, the HIMSS exhibit hall has become an over-the-top exercise in booth extravaganza and showmanship. The pyramids come to mind when you encounter the mega-booths with their duplex skyboxes and built-in theatres that tower over the exhibit hall. Listen to some demos there and you'd think an EMR installation was a snap--certainly nothing like the difficult projects described in the education sessions.

No less an authority than IT proponent David Brailer, MD, President Bush's former federal point man on EMR technology, hit on this theme when he spoke at HIMSS 2006. Alluding to Bush's goal of having an EMR in place for the majority of Americans by 2014, Brailer quipped that the U.S. was already well on the way. Just tally up the claims of the various IT vendors, he said, referencing the exhibit hall, and you will see.

In the weeks leading up to the event, my e-mail inbox nears melt-down with pitches trying to entice me to swing by one of the hundreds of booths. I haven't even registered for the show yet, and already I have fielded dozens of invitations. I don't know about you, but to me, three invitations in three consecutive days from the same company borders on being pushy.

The barrage is bad enough for a reporter. But for a CIO, it's even worse. After all, many of them go to HIMSS actually looking to buy something. And the survey demonstrates that CIOs value functionality more than price. Just over three-fourths of them cited functionality as the top consideration in making an IT purchasing decision, while less than half cited price. Having endured countless press releases and demos from IT vendors, I can assure you that figuring out functionality can be trying. The IT sanity check suggests that the CIOs may be losing theirs in trying to understand it all.

Part of the problem, the survey reveals, is that vendors are not spending their dollars wisely. IT executives turn to their peers for steerage on what to buy, and 70 percent of them go to four or more sources. In contrast, IT vendors spend very little on facilitating these types of peer-to-peer exchanges (one notable exception is Cerner, whose annual user conference draws a throng of hospital IT executives). The vast majority of vendors spend less than 5 percent of their marketing budgets on facilitating the kind of exchange their customers value the most.

The modern word for that is "disconnect." It's kind of ironic in an industry that is supposed to be all about connectivity.

Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at
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