The overwhelming need for cost-effective and high-quality healthcare delivery is motivating the implementation of IT solutions such as the electronic medical records (EMR) system. But while EMR systems undoubtedly offer multiple benefits, their potential is likely to remain unfulfilled unless true continuity in terms of information exchange is attained.
Misdiagnosis due to incomplete medical information and extended hospital stays caused by complications from adverse drug events (ADEs) have resulted in considerable financial losses for the European healthcare industry. As efforts are made to reduce error rates and increase levels of patient safety, IT solutions such as the EMR are emerging as enablers of high-quality, cost-effective healthcare delivery.
EMR usage has contributed to improving the overall quality of care delivery. Comprehensive healthcare records have enhanced decision-making processes and decreased medical errors and adverse events while shortening treatment times and duration of hospital stays.
At the same time, demonstrable savings from lowered transcription costs, reduced radiology and laboratory usage and decline in adverse drug events brought about by the deployment of EMR systems is likely to help healthcare departments control spiralling expenditures.
"The EMR system is now acknowledged to be more than a simple repository of patient information, " comments Healthcare Industry Analyst Siddharth Saha from Frost & Sullivan (). "Organisations use business analytic models to monitor processes and workflows by analysing the information in the EMR. While improving the care delivery process, the system also aids in business process re-engineering and building positive relationships with patients."
In 2003, the total European EMR market (comprising software licensing and maintenance contracts) grew by 19.2 per cent to reach €207.0 million. By 2010, the market is set to amass €688.0 million with enterprise EMR systems accounting for nearly 80 per cent of this share and primary care EMR the remainder.
Frost & Sullivan forecasts growth rates to peak in 2005 and 2006 - at an average of 22.4 per cent - on account of enhanced EMR implementation in the sizeable German and French markets as well as in the United Kingdom where initiatives taken by the British Government to upgrade the IT infrastructure in the NHS are likely to create significant growth opportunity. These three countries are expected to account for the largest share of EMR revenues in 2010.
Government-sponsored initiatives are expected to catalyse expanded IT adoption in healthcare delivery systems. However, with confusion persisting about standards issues and the legal framework surrounding data security and privacy issues, governments are expected to approach healthcare IT with caution.
Currently, the EMR industry in Europe is fragmented with several participants offering systems with niche capabilities. This scenario experiences complicated efforts to achieve a consensus on industry standards for data communication and medical terminology.
At the same time, diverse healthcare systems across Europe have only served to aggravate this problem. Inter-country differences in payment protocols and use of clinical terminology and instances of data not being transferable between various healthcare provider groups, physician practices and payer organisations within countries themselves are likely to retard the efficacy of EMRs.
The potential of EMRs is underutilised when they function in these isolated pockets. The industry's need for technologically driven, high-quality cost-effective healthcare delivery, enabled by EMR systems usage, is therefore likely to remain unrealised without the provision of continuity in terms of data accessibility.
Achieving true continuity in terms of information exchange is expected to be a critical long-term challenge for all stakeholders. Until standards are implemented for medical terminology, data exchange and data security, continuity of care as envisioned by the EMR is not likely to be attained. Ownership of responsibility for providing strategic direction to the industry is another key challenge for the long-term.
"One of the major initiatives that can make a big difference to the growth in this industry is the continued collaboration between vendors, providers, decision-makers and the payers to work on developing and perfecting universally acceptable standards," says Mr. Saha.
"Benefits accruing to EMR developers is likely to include credibility for their products due to successful interoperability from standards that are not too expensive to implement and growing market success relying on interoperability within their product set and not just on inter-vendor interoperability."
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