Overshadowed by Giants

Published: Monday, Jul 21, 2008
In the course of covering the latest healthcare information technology news for physicians, there are times we wonder whether it’s all that it’s cracked up to be—whether the products and their capabilities warrant all the hyperbole.

MDNG last visited this issue in our July 2007 cover story, “Healthcare IT: Is it All Hype?” mainly as it pertained to e-prescribing initiatives and lessthan-successful EHR systems. A year later, as we read and watch the breathless coverage devoted to recent moves by Google, Microsoft, and Apple, we are left asking “is healthcare IT worth the hype?”

With healthcare seemingly in permanent crisis mode, there’s a natural tendency for people in the industry to frame every issue in terms of needing a comprehensive solution to avert certain disaster. The more enthusiastic health IT boosters certainly haven’t shied away from casting their favorite applications in the role of healthcare’s savior, confi dently asserting that adoption will lead to thousands of lives saved and billions of dollars recouped. When numbers that large are thrown around, people tend to pay attention. Combine that anticipation with our societal belief in the innate value of technology and unwavering faith in our ability to innovate our way out of any problem, and you have a recipe for runaway hype. Even the merest hint of a rumor that Microsoft, Apple, or Google is planning to unveil “something big” is enough to send the tech industry media on 24-hour alert. So when the news hit that these companies were fi nally making long-anticipated forays into the healthcare market, the health IT community was abuzz with speculation and anticipation. However, at the end of the day, have these companies and their new products really succeeded in introducing ground-breaking ideas to the healthcare industry, and are they worthy of all the hype? And will they hog the spotlight from smaller health IT companies that may be short on notoriety but on the path to creating truly valuable technologies?

The big guns

The past year has seen Microsoft launch the online health record platform HealthVault; Google launch its online health information portal, Google Health; and Apple unveil an iPhonethat supports numerous, new third-party medical applications. A May 2008 MSN article captured the eff ects of the media frenzy surrounding all this, stating that society is “officially in bizarro world when people start lining up at Apple stores for absolutely no reason.” The article even cited an official Apple analyst who said users should not “expect revamped iPhones until 2009.” Th is, predictably, did little to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.  Merely attaching the name “Google” or “Apple” to a product gives it authenticity in many people’s minds, regardless of its merits. Th us, these tech darlings are often given the benefi t of the doubt, with their previous successes (or at least the perception of their success) building up an enormous reservoir of goodwill in observers, making them inclined to assume continued success in all the companies’ endeavors. Th is uncritical embrace only fuels the hype and sets the stage for potential disappointment down the road.

However, some people are already pushing back and challenging the notion that all the hype is justified. Keith Schorsch, founder and CEO of Trusera.com, recently wrote on The Health Care Blog that he thinks Google especially has lost sight of what consumers (healthcare consumers, especially) really want and is focusing too much on user control. However there are companies that haven’t lost sight of what consumers and physicians need, companies whose products are designed to fill more modest but well-defi ned niches. Let’s turn our attention from the Googles and Microsofts and highlight some of the more notable “little guys.”

The up-and-comers

There are many smaller companies that have made great strides in developing truly useful healthcare technology applications that have yet to receive the attention accorded to their larger counterparts. MDNG blogger and editorial board member Nancy Tice, MD, says free EHR platform PracticeFusion is among her favorites. The program allows physicians to integrate

applications without the use of onsite software, relieving practices of the burden of supporting traditional enterprise software products.

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