Expert offers passport to IT offshore outsourcing

February 24, 2003

Outsourcing medical IT is attractive because information technology is more than costly. It can also be intricate, unstable, and fickle. Hospitals facing increased government regulations, e-business challenges and complexities, and rising patient

Outsourcing medical IT is attractive because information technology is more than costly. It can also be intricate, unstable, and fickle.

Hospitals facing increased government regulations, e-business challenges and complexities, and rising patient expectations are being lured by the outsourcing siren.

And if outsourcing medical IT is good, offshore outsourcing may be even better. Offshore outsourcing provides IT services, as well as business process services, from an overseas location.

More than 25 countries have ventured into this market, notably India, Ireland, Israel, and Mexico. In Ireland, for example, a handful of companies a decade ago have burgeoned to over 800 software firms employing approximately 40,000 people.

"Offshore outsourcing is a trend in healthcare that can take hold over time as we figure out what services within the enterprise can be safely offloaded," said Lucy Mancini, Healthcare Consulting Practice Leader for Perot Systems in Plano, TX.

These services can be applications, custom development, legacy systems, or help desk. In the payer world, it can even be claims processing, she said at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference earlier this month.

Advantages of offshore outsourcing include cost reduction and reduced time-to-completion. The price points can be lower, but it can take relationship building to be able to coordinate these services offshore, according to Mancini.

"When the supplier and receiver of services are in completely opposing time zones and have cultural differences, achievement of positive results for both can be daunting," she said. "Technology and communications have bridged only a portion of the logistical gap."

A number of U.S. firms have substantial experience working with offshore entities and can become the contractor who manages the desired services and relationship to ensure that objectives and expectations are met, Mancini said.

This approach allows the healthcare organization to take advantage of tried and tested methods of managing this type of relationship with the contractual assurances and guarantees of meeting predetermined goals.

So far, offshore outsourcing hasn't been extensively tapped except from specific areas, but Mancini believes the concept is worth consideration when it may make sense for different areas of healthcare.

"Diagnostic imaging is an interesting area because if you really want to do a lifetime clinical record there could be huge numbers of images over time, or over an extensive illness," she said. "How do you keep up with that storage demand?"

Offshore outsourcing is one potential opportunity to lower these price points.