By Michelle Kessler, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — IBM, Intel, Microsoft and other tech companies are increasingly betting that the health care industry will help them grow as their traditional markets mature.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is to kick off a health care tech conference in New Orleans today. The health care Information and Management Systems Society show is expected to draw 900 exhibitors and 25,000 doctors, hospital staffers and others.
It’s Microsoft’s latest health care push. The software giant acquired medical database-maker Azyxxi last year and now has more than 600 employees working on health care projects, Vice President Peter Neupert says. Health care “is a huge sector of our economy,” yet it is still relatively low-tech, he says.
Americans spent almost $2 trillion on health care in 2005, according to the most recent study from the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, many doctors and nurses “still use pen and paper and clipboards” to record patient data, says Scott Eckert, CEO of PC-maker Motion Computing.
Better computer systems could improve data accuracy, prevent duplication and reduce errors, says IBM general manager Dan Pelino.
It could also allow tech companies to sell a lot of hardware and software. That’s important, since growth in traditional tech markets is slowing. For example, U.S. PC shipments rose only 1.2% last year from 2005, says researcher Gartner. But overall health spending on technology jumped a bigger 5%.
Tech companies are responding:
• Intel and partner Motion Computing this month unveiled a laptop for doctors and nurses. It features a germ-resistant surface that is easily disinfected, plus a digital camera to snap pictures of patients.
• Hitachi this month announced plans to acquire Archivas, a company that makes databases to store digital X-rays and other data. Hitachi plans to add Archivas software to storage hardware and other products it already sells. “It’s where the growth is,” Executive Vice President Jack Domme says.
• IBM has more than 4,000 staffers working on health care products. One is a nationwide patient database it’s developing with the Health and Human Services department. The database would store patient data regardless of which hospital or doctor is visited.
Health care will likely become even more lucrative in coming years. The nation’s 79 million baby boomers are aging, with the oldest turning 61 this year. As they require more medical attention, the need for better health care technology will become even more apparent, Microsoft’s Neupert says.