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China’s EMR Market

Posted on October 30, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

Last week I wrote about what’s not happening in China: American firms getting a slice of the EMR market.

This time I thought it’d be interesting to look at what is happening with health IT in the world’s most populous country.

As I mentioned, that’s often easier said than done. The healthcare system has peculiarities, and the government doesn’t necessarily say what it’s planning. Some research firms have shied away from reporting on China’s EMR scene altogether.

But a case study released over the summer provides some fascinating market intelligence. The work by Arthur Daemmrich, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, follows Shanghai Kingstar Winning Software Co. Ltd. as its founder seeks to increase its growth rate.

Three options that Zhou Wei was considering as the first quarter of 2013 drew to a close included continuing to grow organically, merging with another company and expanding into other geographies, including South Asia or even the United States.

Points worth noting:

  • Winning, with 1,000 employees, competed for hospital IT projects with five other large firms. A few hundred smaller companies provided more specialized offerings.
  • The government owned more than 90 percent of the country’s hospitals.
  • Winning had achieved 50 percent revenue growth in 2012 and expected the same in 2013, but Zhou was not satisfied. He felt that even more rapid growth was needed.
  • In 2008, 1 percent of China’s hospitals were using EMRs. By 2012, about 32 percent of higher-ranked hospitals — tier-II and tier-III institutions — had EMRs.
  • Medical record-keeping in China came nearly to a halt during World War II and the country’s civil war. Many leftover records were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The country then began rebuilding its records infrastructure. Daemmrich wrote, “Outpatient visits and prescriptions were recorded on small booklets that patients kept and brought with them to the hospital or other specialized clinic. Most hospitals issued their own booklets, so patients could end up with several different sets of medical records at home.”
  • Zhou’s firm undertook a project at an 850-bed Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) hospital. At such institutions, treatments such as acupuncture and therapeutic massage are common. The company’s R&D director, Ma Wei Min, explained, “The interfaces of western medicine and TCM EMR systems are alike, because the patient flow paths at both kinds of hospitals are almost the same. But going back to the software writing stage, TCM EMRs required a different logic and very different terminology.”

It’s easy to get immersed in the health IT considerations of our own country and forget that other regions are undertaking similar efforts. In China, the goals of the EMR push are largely the same as they are in the United States, but it’s interesting how much local flavor comes into play. The fact that Winning’s founder was seeing 50 percent revenue growth but still expected more was amazing and speaks to the country’s pace of economic development. And the background on China’s record-keeping shows that the country’s task is not just to digitize processes that have long been in place, but to define exactly what a medical record is and how it should work.

4 Reasons U.S. EMR Firms Won’t Try China

Posted on October 23, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

If you have something to sell, chances are you’ve thought about selling it in China.

With a population of 1.35 billion, it’s become an attractive market for U.S. companies pushing everything from athletic shoes to light trucks to Tide. Given the natural limits of their home market, you’d assume that American EMR firms would eventually size up China’s nascent health IT scene.

And it’s likely they have. In a report a few years ago, 100 percent of vendors surveyed told the consulting firm Accenture that they saw global markets as an opportunity in the long term.

But health IT doesn’t export quite as easily as Pringles and KFC. I’ve seen China’s healthcare system up close several times, and if you ask me, making headway in the world’s most populous nation will be beyond difficult.

China, which is in the midst of its own health care reform, could certainly be tempting for companies such as Epic, McKesson and Cerner. As Benjamin Shobert wrote for Forbes, the country in 2009 extended basic health coverage to 97 percent of its citizens. It also promised to build 31,000 hospitals, upgrade 5,000 existing ones and train 150,000 new primary-care doctors.

McKinsey & Co. last year said health care spending in China would grow to $1 trillion in 2020 from $375 million in 2011.

Meanwhile, U.S. EMR companies are going to need new markets to conquer. Estimates of how much growth potential is left are many and varied. But no matter how you look at it, at some point every American healthcare organization of any size will have an EMR. Millennium Research Group last month predicted declining EMR-industry revenue from this year on because of “market saturation.”

Of course, plenty of IT firms, including Oracle and IBM, have a major presence in China. But the China market won’t happen in a significant way for U.S. health IT companies any time soon, and here’s why:

  • China’s healthcare is different. The private physician’s office that Americans are used to is more or less nonexistent. You go to a hospital-based clinic and see the doctor who’s available. Patient privacy hasn’t taken hold, so there could be other clinic-goers and family members milling about near — or in — your exam room. Chinese traditional medicine is practiced alongside the “Western” variety. Even with insurance, you typically pay up front and get reimbursed later. A U.S.-centric EMR would not map neatly onto China’s workflows. There’s an overview of China’s system here. I’ve written about a Chinese dental clinic here.
  • No one understands China’s health IT. OK, I’m sure some people do, and I hope they comment. But it’s a challenge. The health information firm KLAS Enterprises isn’t even attempting to cover China. A KLAS executive vice president, Jared Peterson, told Modern Healthcare, “The Chinese market, that’s a big mystery.” Meanwhile, Accenture omitted China from its 2010 report “Overview of International EMR/EHR Markets” because of “conflicting opinions of overall EMR maturity.”
  • The language barrier will be formidable. Epic CEO Judith Faulkner told Modern Healthcare how her company had adapted its system for another language. “We’ve only done it once, for Dutch,” she said in January 2012. “It’s a lot of mapping. It’s a task, but it hasn’t been that bad of a task.” But Dutch is not Chinese, and Chinese doesn’t use the Roman alphabet. I’m betting that when you throw Chinese characters into the mix, the conversion will be “that bad of a task” and then some.
  • Cloud-based systems could raise security issues. Some experts expect cloud-based services to play a significant role as health IT spreads to developing countries. But according to a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report, “Regulations requiring foreign firms to enter into joint cooperative arrangements with Chinese companies in order to offer cloud computing services may jeopardize the foreign firms’ information security arrangements.”

It’s worth mentioning that three years ago, China was mentioned as Cerner announced plans to develop global markets. It wanted to get into emerging regions before its U.S.-based competitors did.

There’s not much sign of life now in any China-related plans the company might have had, though. According to a message from Chad Haynes, managing director for Cerner Asia, on the firm’s website: “We look forward to improving the health of communities in ASEAN, China, and beyond.”

In the case of China, that could be a while.

EMR Market is Growing, But It’s Not What It Was

Posted on September 11, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

The EMR market is likely to grow at more than 7 percent per year through 2016, according to a new report.

The estimate comes from London-based research and advisory firm TechNavio. The company wrote in its analysis, “Global Hospital-based EMR Market 2012-2016,” that “demand for advanced health monitoring systems” and for cloud-computing services were major contributors to demand.

On the other hand, according to the company, implementation costs could be a limiting factor.

The TechNavio figure is actually a compound annual growth rate of 7.46 percent. That means substantial opportunity for the many companies referenced in the report, including Cerner Corp., Epic Systems Corp., AmazingCharts Inc. and NextGen Healthcare, to name a few.

Another research firm, Kalorama Information, in April reported that the EMR market reached nearly $21 billion in 2012, up 15 percent from the year before, driven by hospital upgrades and government incentives.

About 44 percent of U.S. hospitals had at least a basic EHR in 2012, up from 12 percent in 2009, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

In the United States, at least, future growth might require more resources and creativity to achieve. You might remember the recent post “The Golden Era of EHR Adoption is Over,” by Healthcare Scene’s John Lynn, positing that the low-hanging fruit for EMR vendors, the market of early adopters and the “early majority,” is gone, leaving a pool of harder-to-convince customers.

But the TechNavio report is broader, considering not only the Americas but also Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. That’s truly a mixed bag, as while health IT is at a preliminary stage in many developing markets, it’s highly advanced in countries such as Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom, where, according to the Commonwealth Fund, EMR adoption by primary-care physicians exceeds 90 percent.

When EMR initiatives get a firmer foothold in countries such as China, where cloud-based solutions could well prevail, growth rates for those areas might exceed — several times over — the overall figure predicted by TechNavio.

And in the United States, certain pockets, such as the rural hospital market, still present huge opportunity. Fewer than 35 percent of rural hospitals had at least a basic EMR in 2012, but the enthusiasm is clearly there, as that number was up from only 10 percent in 2010, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It looks like it’s still a great time to be an EMR vendor. But it’s not the same market that it was even a couple of years ago, and success in the new era might require looking at new markets and approaches.