RSNA: Siemens Medical CEO Preaches Single-Source Sermon

CHICAGO—Hospitals increasingly want all their technology—medical innovations as well as health-IT—from a single vendor, says the chief executive of one of the world’s largest medical technology companies.

“It’s important to be able to offer a fully integrated solution,” says Erich Reinhardt, president and CEO of Siemens Medical Solutions (Erlangen, Germany), since tighter integration usually means better performance. “The old approach of best-of-breed will not work in healthcare.”

That’s perhaps not a surprising perspective from a giant vendor such as Siemens, but it also is not a new attitude within the user community, as the pendulum has been on the side of single-source, enterprise-wide solutions for a while now (see “EHR: Best of Breed Losing Ground to Integrated Apps”). What is new is Reinhardt’s expansion of the definition of “integration” to include heavy diagnostic equipment.

Reinhardt came from Siemens global headquarters in Erlangen, Germany, to host a breakfast with healthcare media Tuesday morning at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting, the largest medical gathering in the world each year, drawing more than 60,000 people from around the globe to the chilly, breezy shores of Lake Michigan.

Here at RSNA, Siemens is focusing on medical devices for the lucrative imaging market, introducing new and updated MRI, CT, and ultrasound machines, though there is a healthy health-IT component.

Not surprisingly, Siemens is touting the fact that its Soarian Clinicals electronic health record (EHR) is among the first six in-patient products to win approval from the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology this month. (See “CCHIT Certifies the First EHRs for Acute Care.”) The company also is selling its open-architecture Syngo platform to integrate imaging modalities into health-IT from multiple vendors.

“Our IT strategy is based on a platform concept,” Reinhardt says. He says that Soarian is different from its competitors because it’s fully Web-native, so the software does not have to be installed on each workstation, and because it comes with an “integrated workflow engine.”

The Siemens Medical boss says the company has automated more than 100 distinct workflows for Soarian users, and notes that one customer, Chester County Hospital (West Chester, Pa.), won an international award for business process management in 2006 on the strength of its Soarian implementation.

Clearly, though, he sees health-IT from a much broader view than just workflow improvement. Patients are said to have an expectation of safe, accurate, effective, and efficient care—all problems that IT is designed to address. “I think that’s drivel,” the outspoken Reinhardt says. What they really want is access to the best diagnostics and therapy, as fast as possible. (He did not address the important issue of who pays for such care.)

“Innovation is important,” Reinhardt says. Advances in technology helps clinicians detect diseases earlier, leading to a higher likelihood of successful treatment and lower costs and, potentially, more specific information on how patients respond to various treatments.

As biotechnology advances and personalized medicine takes hold advance, biomarkers will become central to designing the most effective, least invasive treatments. “This needs IT,” Reinhardt insists. “We try to demonstrate the clinical relevance rather than the technology.”

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