Incumbency is as powerful in the IT business as it is in politics.
Proof of that can be seen in the way that the Tufts-New England Medical Center, known as NEMC, has approached its compliance with the federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations.
NEMC last year brought in Perot Systems Corp., of Plano, Texas, to set up and manage a new IT infrastructure, complete with project management, systems implementation, systems integration and infrastructure support services. At the time, NEMC had just pulled out of a five-year association with Lifespan, a Rhode Island-based consortium of hospitals that shares a range of business services, including IT.
So, when NEMC began to address HIPAA, which requires that steps are taken to ensure security and confidentiality when dealing with patient information, Perot Systems was a top candidate for the job.
"We looked at Who do you trust? Who is best positioned to deliver?" said Bill Shickolovich, CIO at NEMC, which runs two hospitals in Boston. "We came off a nice success with Perot," Shickolovich said.
Because of its existing relationship with NEMC, Perot Systems became the "odds-on favorite" to do the work to bring the hospital into compliance with HIPAA, Shickolovich said. NEMC considered other systems integrators, but it needed to move fast to winnow candidates, so it didnt put out a request for proposals.
When it comes to tackling HIPAA requirements, it is crucial that whoever takes on the task understands the implications on the business, Shickolovich said. In fact, IT staffers do not even constitute the majority of the team working on HIPAA.
"Its not really an IT problem," Shickolovich said. "Our goal is to be compliant and have some semblance of business continuity. Im not looking for the traditional technical integrator; Im looking for someone who understands what health care is about."
This was where Perot Systems broad experience in the health care field was perhaps just as important as its relationship with NEMC. The systems integrator has a substantial business working with insurance companies and other organizations that pay health care costs and even has its own health care claims management software.
"We put together a team of four lead people working on HIPAA; everyone had worked at both a payer and a provider customer, so they could see it coming from both sides of the coin," said Tim Quigley, the Perot account manager in charge of the NEMC job.
"I wasnt looking for someone to come in and help me do transactions from one player to another," Shickolovich said. "If that is all they can do, then Ive got a bigger problem. I needed someone who understands the breadth of the business issues."
When choosing the software to help with HIPAA compliance, incumbency was also important. Shickolovich first looked to NEMCs existing software providers to try to "leverage our existing capital investments," he said.
The hospital had been using Quovadx Inc.s Cloverleaf software (now called QDX Integrator) for some integration tasks and saw that it could use the Englewood, Colo., developers QDX Cash Accelerator to ensure HIPAA compliance in direct transactions with clearinghouses and individual-payer partners.
The result: Perot Systems, with help from Quovadxs professional services group, has deployed QDX Cash Accelerator with a few payer organizations and hopes to roll it out more broadly, Quigley said.
Shickolovich said NEMCs relationship with Quovadx was an important reason he went with that vendor, and he said he did not think that Perot Systems necessarily had to have experience with the software.
Shickolovich said he expects NEMCs association with Perot Systems will continue. Although the two organizations have an open relationship, he said contractual terms re-enforce his efforts to keep NEMC and Perot working with the same priorities.
"Health care is a very packaged, software-intensive industry, so it is also systems integrator-intensive," Shickolovich said. "In the spirit of managing this [HIPAA compliance project], we are trying to make sure this current model works."