Magazine Article | April 20, 2012

Take Data Collection From Warehouses To Hospitals

By Gennifer Biggs, Business Solutions magazine

Learn how one data collection solutions provider evolved its business so that now 50% of all its new revenue comes from healthcare clients.

"The decision to enter the healthcare field should not be made lightly or be driven by dollars,” cautions Peter Vatenos, VP of marketing and product development and a partner in RMS Omega Technologies. “You won’t get a payback for years, and the learning curve is significant.” That’s good advice coming from an expert whose company has nearly a decade of experience in the healthcare technology business. So, if you’re eager to jump on the healthcare IT bandwagon — as many solutions providers are doing these days — you may want to first learn how RMS earned a reputation as one of the top healthcare IT providers in the nation.

With So Many Hurdles, Why Healthcare?
Before RMS targeted the healthcare vertical, it was wellestablished as a warehouse/distribution data capture provider, working with large customers to deliver mobile data capture solutions. But then the company inadvertently became aware of a new opportunity. "We anecdotally heard from friends in the healthcare business about needs that we felt could be resolved with our technology expertise," explains Vatenos. Issues such as misidentification of specimens, tracking of medications and patients, and the creation of repeatable, efficient workflow standards were all closely related to what RMS delivered to its customers. "We knew we could remove much of the human error from healthcare processes by supplying similar technology solutions but with obviously more important outcomes."

For example, at the time, nurses visited several patients in a row, but were forced to return to a stationary desk to record notes and retrieve medication labels. That created a ripe opportunity for human error. When a nurse can carry a mobile computer along for those visits and print and label medications right in the room of the patient, that opportunity for error shrinks. Plus, the new solution creates a more efficient workflow. “We started to look at ways we could bring technology to the patient’s bedside and make the jobs of healthcare workers easier,” explains Vatenos. “We knew we had the technology skills, but we needed to grow our knowledge of the vertical first.”

Collaboration, Partnership Drive Healthcare Know-How
For RMS, developing in-depth knowledge of the needs of healthcare facilities, including understanding common workflows and the vernacular of the vertical, meant hiring specialists. Among those hires was a former healthcare facility administrator who testified in Congress about the convergence of technology and healthcare. “We started our search before the wave of interest in healthcare IT that has crested today, so we were lucky to find many experts willing to help us craft our solutions,” explains Vatenos. But even with the capital and influence to hire those healthcare experts, the path to becoming well-versed in healthcare was long and uphill. “From the time we identified healthcare as an opportunity, it took a good four years before we could confidently stand in front of the appropriate people and connect the dots with them to make a sale.”

Leverage Existing Expertise To Tackle Healthcare Data Capture
As RMS cultivated its healthcare expertise, it found instances where its existing data capture expertise translated well to healthcare. For instance, its experience in warehouses helped complete a portfolio of healthcare technology and workflow solutions such as specimen collection and tracking, patient ID and medication verification, wireless network and device support, internal communications systems, and mobile device management. The company’s knowledge of handheld scanners, wireless networks, and efficient workflow empowered by data capture technology also supported its healthcare efforts.

However, the number of disparate systems found in healthcare environments pushed RMS outside its comfort zone. “We found that healthcare facilities had completely different systems for records, billing, coding, labs, and patient tracking, and each of those had to integrate with any device or platform we recommended,” explains Vatenos. That meant RMS fine-tuned a system for both integrating and testing solutions that revolved around the established communications standard used in healthcare — called HL7. “We quickly learned to assess and test everything, from the wireless networks to devices to software.”

RMS also faced new security hurdles as it moved into healthcare. While the wireless networks in both warehouses and healthcare facilities were often robust and well-built, RMS quickly learned wireless security in hospitals was considerably more robust and often created an additional layer of complexity to a scanner or other mobile technology deployment. Vatenos gave the example of one facility that demanded encryption on its Bluetooth printers, which parallels government security levels. “Security adds a whole new dimension to any deployment, especially when you are trying to take hardware and make it work in a secure environment when it wasn’t built for that purpose,” explains Vatenos. Those demands often lead to close collaboration with vendors, such as Honeywell and Cisco.

Another area where healthcare differs is user buy-in, which demands a large commitment in terms of time for training and education to prove the value of the new technology. Vatenos also stresses that the sales cycle for healthcare can be extremely long — years in some cases — which requires a patient and dedicated sales force. That investment in time is balanced by a tendency for ongoing project work with healthcare facilities dedicated to continuously improving IT processes.

The need for buy-in is closely related to another unique element of healthcare — the need to interface knowledgeably with multiple groups within one potential customer location. While organizations typically have a goal in mind, such as implementing a handheld bar code scanner solution for medication tracking or meeting a new federal privacy regulation, they don’t know how to achieve that goal or who will need to be involved. That can mean meetings with quality assurance groups, IT departments, clinical nursing and laboratory staff, and the infectious control team — just to implement a new scanner solution. “As a solutions provider, you have to understand and address the needs of each group and then weave those needs together into a cohesive solution,” explains Vatenos.

Lastly, RMS has learned to rely on healthcare associations, such as HIMSS, for up-to-date information and insight into unique healthcare product demands, such as which vendors offer handheld scanners equipped to handle disinfection without degradation to plastic housing. The company has discovered local and regional organizations are often the best fit because they provide access to the same industry knowledge while also providing a good source for networking. The bottom line, says Vatenos, is that any solutions provider looking for a quick switch must fully understand the reality of healthcare. “In a warehouse, the worst thing that could happen was we lost a box of widgets. In a hospital, you could contribute to an adverse drug event or a misdiagnosis based on specimen identification error. The stakes are infinitely higher, and there is no room for error.”

New Technology Creates Future Healthcare Opportunities
With vendors focused on leveraging existing technology in the healthcare vertical, RMS expects new solutions to hit the market in the next year or so. As the price of RFID tags continues to drop, Vatenos says he expects more use of this technology for both asset discovery and specimen identification. Plus, integration of voice command capabilities in existing technology will streamline lab work.

While those new opportunities continue to evolve, RMS expects its success in healthcare to continue, with 50% of all its new revenue tied to this market. And with a track record that includes year-over-year growth of more than 20% in the past three years, RMS provides validation that taking the time to invest and commit to healthcare IT is worth the effort. Just don’t overlook the responsibility that comes along with that opportunity.