A few years ago, the U.S. government issued a mandate that some industry pundits suggested would basically set the Health Care IT world on fire. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included financial incentives for healthcare providers and other medical facilities to implement (and demonstrate a meaningful use for) electronic health records (EHR) systems. Within days of the announcement, scores of HIT experts and training programs sprang to action to help channel organizations take advantage of this multi-billion dollar opportunity. From market education and sales training to marketing support and a number of other healthcare technology-related specializations, the experts offering these services helped fuel a level of hype unseen in the IT channel for quite some time.
Of course, there was and continues to be a significant opportunity for the properly prepared managed services providers, but the market certainly could never live up to the promises made by so many authorities on HIT. Many of those in it for a quick buck have already closed up shop or moved on to what they consider more profitable schemes, and several of the healthcare technology vendors that were targeting channel companies seemed to have taken a similar route. Whether the fit wasn’t a good one or these organizations were not truly committed to the channel, the noise these companies contributed to the conversation has diminished.
Now that the dust has settled somewhat, it’s a great time to focus on the HIT-related prospects that actually do make good sense for managed services providers. The healthcare sector has flourished over the past few years, with U.S. and Canadian industry growing a projected 7.4% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) and expected to top $31.3 billion by 2017 (up from $21.9 billion in 2012), according to Research and Markets’ North American Healthcare IT Market Report 2013-2017. Another report, the US Healthcare IT Market Outlook 2018 suggests that growth will be closer to 20% per year from 2014-2018.
While some MSPs have gotten a fair portion of that business, the ones who were most successful have taken a more realistic approach to the opportunities, with many making significant investments in specialized training and developing specialized programs. Like any specialized technology field, those who do their homework and develop workable plans will have a greater chance of capturing new clients and gaining additional sales. The providers who already support some aspects of a medical practice, hospital and other healthcare facility have a greater ability to make inroads and expand their services in those client sites. With a little research and extra attention on the opportunities available in their area, MSPs can build practices that support the unique needs of these customers—just like they would any other specialized market.
The demand for basic office computing support remains strong, with data backup and disaster recovery solution needs driving even more businesses to outsource these services. Industry and regulatory compliance concerns only fuel that initiative and it provides MSPs with the opening they need to succeed in the medical field. Of course, while the new systems mandated by the U.S. government may help bring attention to the need for outsourcing, only the properly prepared MSPs will profit from these directives.
As of October 1st of this year (recently extended from January 1st), all public and private healthcare providers and other eligible medical professionals must have adopted and demonstrated “meaningful use” of electronic medical records (EMR) to maintain their existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels. This is a crucial deadline for a vast majority of the country’s practitioners, especially for those with a high number of elderly or low-income patients enrolled in those government programs.
Of course the question of whether MSPs can realistically profit from HIT specializations still persists. The answer depends on a number of factors and not all of them will be in their own control. If any of the following conditions exists, the opportunities are surely worth pursuing:
The MSP operates in an area with a number of regional or independent healthcare organizations, medical offices and related facilities (not large centrally-controlled groups)
- Their office procedure and compliance needs are not adequately supported
- Technology and other support gaps remain
- The costs of building a healthcare IT practice would exceed true revenue potential
- An outsource partner is available to assist, with qualified healthcare technologists on staff to offer helpdesk, NOC and other support services
Before any MSP enters the healthcare IT field, they must ensure they have the expertise, solutions and service capabilities to compete with existing providers and direct market vendors. Their success may depend on their ability to partner with other vendors and outsource partners, and their dedication to participate in advanced technology and sales training programs. Despite the perception, the HIT field still offers great long-term revenue prospects—but only those providers who can commit the proper amount of resources and energy need apply.