Focus on business, health sector told

A surge in IT activity in Australia's healthcare industry has led to a warning from analysts to IT managers to remain "focused on business" when making purchasing decisions.

While IT vendors are vying for business in the health industry, Gartner research shows IT investments being deployed in health care organisations (HCOs) are "too reactive and narrowly defined".

Fandhu Swinder, systems coordinator, North Shore Private Hospital, agrees with the research pointing out that "IT can no longer use a lack of funding as an excuse for bad technology investments".

"I expect spend on IT will increase this year … [and] on the challenge of getting funding for IT, I would rate that about a five or six out of 10. IT has very much a mainstream focus."

Swinder said his department has many projects in the pipeline, but the main reason spending will increase this year is because "we haven't invested recently and we need to replace equipment".

Gartner said HCOs must make investments in the future that are fully aligned with a comprehensive IT and business strategy, and that focus on measurement and value.

"HCOs that succeed will take a more businesslike approach to all IT investments, including projects with risk outside of their historical comfort zones.

"An HCO's differentiation and market survival will require IT's measurable contribution to the business."

However, an anonymous IT manager from a Tasmanian private hospital said getting funding for IT projects is "hard to justify".

"Whereas in banking, IT is critical in healthcare it is still critical, but supporting patient needs comes first. IT is really seen as an administrative tool."

He said one of the biggest IT issues affecting him was the cost of software. "Applications that vendors supply are getting very expensive for small hospital sites. These include financial and patient administration systems."

For Swinder, he said his biggest problem was computer literacy among users. "The biggest issue I face is user education; people not knowing what they are doing."

Gartner said in its Healthcare Top Ten 2002 report that other issues facing HCO IT departments include the challenge of reducing medical errors, Web initiatives and weighing up the risks and benefits of the application service provider (ASP) business model.