In its announcement, GE Healthcare said it would focus its new development strategy on "maximizing asset performance; improving hospital operations management; improving clinical effectiveness; and optimizing care across entire populations." The company plans to:
-- Increase productivity through scheduling efficiencies, faster data entry, clinical decision support, and "financial gains that allow for expansion."
-- Reduce costs by optimizing workflow and eliminating waste.
-- Minimize rework and redundancies by enhancing collaboration and improving access to information.
GE Healthcare already is the largest software developer in the GE corporation. Why invest so much money in health IT now?
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In an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare, Jan De Witte, president and CEO of healthcare IT and performance solutions for GE Healthcare, said the decision was motivated by the amount of waste and the low productivity in healthcare, which GE views as a big opportunity. Just on the operations side, he said, "a 10-20% improvement is feasible." And overall, in an industry that is estimated to waste about 25% of its resources, there's a tremendous opportunity to profit from improvement, he said.
"Software is going to be a tremendous lever to build a more productive workflow and more powerful analytics to drive productivity and eliminate some of that waste," he said. Although the industry has already invested a lot in digitization, he added, much more needs to be done to "turn that data into insights and more productive processes."
To reach its ambitious goals, GE is counting on a big data approach that many in the industry view as critical to the next phase of healthcare. "With today's capabilities, we can accelerate change by bringing data out of different silos together to draw conclusions," he said.
One example is sepsis control. "You can bring together data from different patients in different populations to identify the risk for sepsis early," said De Witte. "This is a simple yet powerful example of leveraging data from different places over time and drawing conclusions from that."
De Witte acknowledges that workflow and culture change will be required to harness technology in such efforts. GE Healthcare's performance solutions unit, he noted, includes consultants who work with clinicians on change management and teach them Lean and Six Sigma skills "to change processes and help them adapt."
Similarly, he pointed out, the Caradigm joint venture, owned by GE and Microsoft, has an application that assigns a risk factor to each patient at discharge. That's used to help nurses and discharge planners decide how the patient should be cared for during the two months after discharge so that hospitals can avoid readmissions. The key to success, he said, is using the software to help the staff reengineer their processes.
Overall, he stated, "It's not just software that's going to do it. It's software plus process reengineering that will drive significant change."
GE's new software development program will draw heavily on the expertise of the parent company's San Ramon facility. That R&D center, De Witte said, "has a lot of deep expertise and platform capabilities and reusable components, including analytics, workflow management and data security. So for the core platform elements, we're going to leverage the San Ramon facility, which creates these elements, not just for GE Healthcare, but for other businesses in GE."
GE Healthcare will be able to apply much of the new resources it is developing in its businesses around the world, he said. "The economics of healthcare are very aligned across the globe, so the opportunities for improvement are the same."
The company will also export some of its new applications to Caradigm, he added.
GE also will improve the user interfaces for GE's electronic health records and other healthcare products. It is already stepping up its investment in this area, he noted. Last year, for instance, GE introduced a "universal viewer" for radiology images that reduced the number of clicks required to "read" images by 70%.
GE is also expanding its EHRs to meet the needs of accountable care organizations. Among the areas of focus are financial risk management, operations management, care management and patient engagement, he said.