On Tuesday, IBM launched an effort to build a prototype infrastructure for health information exchange, complete with speeches by the nations health IT czar. On Wednesday, IBM said it would acquire HealthLink Inc., a highly regarded health IT consulting company with over 500 consultants. And on Thursday, IBM announced a $400 million deal with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to improve health IT.
The announcements are designed to generate publicity. The so-called IHII (Interoperable Health Information Infrastructure) project will have about 20 full-time staff, and wont link actual health care providers.
Sure, thats the size of many small technology companies, but it hardly registers for a company with some 300,000 employees. The deal with UPMC extends over eight years, with both entities contributing funds, and with a guaranteed joint investment of only $50 million.
And with health IT lagging behind other industries both in terms of the amount of investment and technologys pervasiveness, IBM is hardly the only technology company to decide health IT is the next growth area. Accenture acquired CapGemini earlier this year.
Nonetheless, the impact IBM will have on health IT is very real. With the acquisition of HealthLink, all 12 health care companies in the Fortune 500 are IBM customers.
Two months after IBM called for the government to take a firmer hand in promoting interoperable standards, the health IT czar was at IBMs research facility, lauding the companys efforts to, among other things, find gaps and conflicts in current health IT standards.
In general, this should be cause for celebration. As IBM loves to point out, U.S. health care costs are spiraling and health IT might help bring them under control.
(The company is less likely to point out that people in Canada and Europe pay less per capita for health care and live longer, and highly inefficient bureaucracy, high-tech medical services, and high doctors salaries, not lack of health IT, are generally blamed for the contrast.)