Federal health care IT spending set to grow

January 8, 2012

With money tight, congressional appropriators rarely insist that agencies spend money. Yet the omnibus spending bill passed Dec. 17 approved $100 million for a joint Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs effort to develop digital medical records — even though they missed deadlines for requesting the money.

A recent Deltek report projects that the federal health care information technology market will grow from $4.5 billion in 2011 to $6.5 billion by 2016, far surpassing overall federal IT growth estimates.

Rising health care costs, the aging population and anticipated cost reductions and efficiency gains promise to make health care IT one of only a few bright spots in federal spending over the next few years.

Contractors should find opportunity at multiple agencies. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for instance, is seeking to modernize its infrastructure to make payments to providers nationwide more efficient, to increase program integrity and to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.

The Defense Department and VA are leading efforts to develop electronic health records, give providers and patients access to records through wireless and mobile devices and allow patients to participate in their own care through telemedicine, bringing specialists to rural areas and the battlefield.

These technologies cut across many industries, but the companies most likely to take advantage of the government’s health care IT push will be those that develop a coherent approach that speaks to both government IT buyers and the medical professionals they serve.

The companies best able to meet the government’s evolving needs will be those able to synthesize several disparate requirements:

Master the medicine. To develop effective electronic health records, companies must have health care expertise. Successful bidders should hire — or partner with — clinical subject matter experts.

Master the technology. Most of the health care IT projects Deltek expects to see funded will require expertise in infrastructure, communications, mobility, analytics, big data, modeling and simulation.

Master the federal market. Federal health care IT buyers have different concerns than the private market. From complex existing systems to meeting the requirements of Medicare and Medicaid, their challenge is far more complicated.

Master the scope. Agencies will need the back-end infrastructure to handle massive amounts of bandwidth. They will need to be able to support intensive mobile data, including video and images, and to store it indefinitely. The DOD-VA effort, for instance, aims to create a single digital health record that will serve individuals from the moment they enlist as service members through the rest of their lives as veterans.

Understand the goals. The final purchase decision will be made by a committee of IT officials, who will focus on systems that are technically workable and offer cost savings, and clinical experts, who will expect to see improved patient outcomes. The most successful contractors are likely to be those able to sell them on both.

Angela Petty is senior principal research analyst at Herndon-based Deltek, which conducts research on the government contracting market.

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