Significant opportunities are emerging for healthcare IT companies within general healthcare provision and more particularly in disease management. Developments in IT are proving to be as critical as medical advances in spurring the growth of evidence-based medicine.

Mainstream applications of healthcare IT companies focus on offering clinical information systems (CIS) and hospital information systems (HIS). In addition, there are several niche areas of which the “disease management service sector” is the most prominent.

Small, flexible and innovative organizations are expected to be the early beneficiaries of emerging opportunities in the disease management service sector. In the U.S., the IT route is being adopted by many pioneering companies that are offering the information provision, patient monitoring, communication facilities and data collection essential for disease management.

"By transforming themselves from occupying a subcontractor role to being perceived as disease management enablers, these companies appear to have gained the lions' share of opportunities in raising care quality. They are the only company type currently able to provide the right input," believes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Gordon Blackwell (http://healthcare.frost.com).

The congruence between IT and disease management techniques is well established. Successful disease management depends on a disease-specific information system that manages care programmes across the healthcare continuum, enables home monitoring, monitors self-care procedures and ensures effective communication/information exchanges among patients, caregivers and healthcare providers.

While this is a positive development, the continued neglect of elderly and functionally limited home-based patients requiring disease management remains disquieting. The marginalization of these potential user groups compels technology designers to address the constraints related to old age and functional inexperience.

Today, both specialized, single-disease as well as multiple disease management service companies are active on the market. Rare diseases, such as hemophilia, offer prospects for specialization. However, the trend favors multiple disease management providers. This stems from the fact that chronic conditions often involve overlapping diseases.

While traditional disease management appears to have proven cost-effective in the U.S., there is little proof of the cost-effectiveness or even potential long-term cost reduction accrued from the use of the Internet in disease management. Despite this, leading healthcare consultancies estimate the U.S. market for IT-based disease management services expanded from $68 million in 1997 to $500 million in 2000, projecting $10 billion in revenues by 2010.

In Europe, the multiplicity of health systems and languages has underlined a fragmented IT sector. In this scenario, medical product companies active in IT are likely to have the best prospects for ascendancy. Most healthcare specialist companies in the IT sector are small. They will therefore have to achieve rapid growth or enter into acquisition programs to be able to compete effectively.

Clinical information systems, with the ability to provide computer- assisted diagnosis are expected to anchor healthcare systems of the future. This will present the company supplying the software with the opportunity to supply and/or control the supply of all the essential compatible hardware and other products.

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