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Cambridge, UK: The £6 Billion being spent on the UK’s national health service IT infrastructure as part of the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) should provide a significant boost for ehealth vendors. However a white paper published by Wireless Healthcare suggests that, to date, the programme has been of little help to small to medium sized IT companies.

According to the paper, “Wireless eHealth and the NPfIT”, the applications that make up the NPfIT, while regarded as revolutionary by the National Health Service (NHS), will merely provide the level of automation most large commercial organisations have been enjoying for almost a decade. As well, according to Wireless Healthcare, the program itself has concentrated spending in a few key areas and has frozen out a large number of smaller ehealth vendors.

The paper points out that the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is having a radical impact on suppliers who are seeing their evangelistic early adopters within the NHS replaced by risk adverse Local Service Providers (LSPs). These LSPs have been given the task of deploying applications such as ebooking and electronic patient records. Wireless Healthcare suggests that an alliance of vendors could produce bundles of proven ehealth applications and that, as these bundles would require minimal integration, LSPs would find them more attractive than a selection of individual products. The paper explains that an alliance of vendors would find it easier to negotiate with the companies that have already won contracts to supply the NHS with IT infrastructure.

Wireless Healthcare has suggested that a special interest group within the Cambridge 3G forum could provide the basis of an alliance that would enable ehealth vendors to resolve technical issues and showcase applications.

Some smaller healthcare IT vendors have been advised to seek overseas markets for their products and services. However the paper suggests that these vendors should also attack the preventative healthcare sector - a market that is UK based market, even if it is foreign to the NHS. Wireless Healthcare believes that, at some point, the government’s attitude to preventative healthcare will change. The paper points out that investing in preventative healthcare is more effective than continually increasing spending on a system that only makes healthcare freely available once a person has fallen ill.

The paper warns that a shift in priorities over the coming years – one that places greater emphasis on disease prevention - could expose a fault line within the NPfIT. “There is potential for conflict between the management of the NPfIT, who will want to keep the program fresh and relevant by introducing the latest technology, and LSPs who will be under pressure to complete contracts on time and within budgets. eHealth vendors could find themselves caught up in a battle between NPfIT managers and LSPs.” States Peter Kruger, Senior Analyst with Wireless Healthcare. He goes on to point out, “While the NPfIT is unlikely to fail as spectacularly as some other government backed IT programs the desire to use the latest technology and keep pace with trends in preventative healthcare could introduce an element of mission creep.”

The paper also points out that, as applications are deployed and pressure builds for the NHS to use IT to cut costs, the NPfIT will encounter resistance from NHS staff. Technology such as wireless tagging of patients, blood plasma packs and medicine bottles - that reduce medical errors - should be welcomed with open arms by medical staff. It will be less popular however if it is used to identify the members of staff who are responsible for those errors. The paper advices that, to avoid such resistance, vendors should partner with companies who have experience of change management within the healthcare sector.

The paper suggests that alliances, such as the one which Wireless Healthcare is championing within Cambridge 3G, could include companies from outside the IT and communications sector. “We have already seen pharmaceutical, biotechnology and IT companies coming together to develop home testing kits for diabetes sufferers.” Explains Kruger. “There is no reason why companies providing dietary information and health screening services cannot work alongside hardware and software developers to produce wireless and mobile based ehealth services.” In its recently publishedreport ‘Wireless Healthcare 2004’ the company explains how a combination of RFID and mobile phone technology could provide a platform for a dietary information system. Such a system could be used by shoppers to determine the salt content of food products on sale in supermarkets.

Wireless Healthcare is a UK based consultancy specialising in mobile healthcare and ehealth.

The white paper “Wireless eHealth and the NPfIT” and “Wireless Healthcare 2004” are available from www.wirelesshealthcare.co.uk

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