Increasing interest in electronic patient record systems is found in a new study of European healthcare IT vendors by consultants, Frost & Sullivan.

The attraction lies in the ease with which EPR systems can be devised using existing technologies, but the report’s author, Chris Cherrington, points to a significant problem.

"While hospitals and healthcare standards are merging across Europe and equipment manufacturers regard the market as global, the inherent characteristics in the hospital information system (HIS) arena remain stubbornly national in nature and reflect the idiosyncrasies of the relevant regional healthcare systems,” he writes.

This poses a problem for the vendors. "A single one-size-fits-all solution is the stock in trade of the IT community. A bank is a bank, just the language and layout of the chequebook show variations across different countries. HIS is not a high-profit zone and consequently, the market will be dominated by vendors that make their money from the non-HIS products," Mr Cherrington adds.

He also notes a trend for medical hardware vendors such as GE Medical, Philips and Siemens to buy up healthcare software vendors. He points to Siemen’s recent acquisition of SMS and speculates on moves that the other players might make.

”Perhaps both GE Medical and Philips have the financial strength to launch a serious challenge. GE has purchased some smaller vendors and a stake in Cerner, and this company is seeing its share of the market grow. At the same time Philips has bought Agilent: Philips wants to clinch the number one spot and can buy this position if it has to.”

The study questions the trend pointing out that every other industry and vertical market suggests that it is a flawed strategy. The next few years will tell whether the HIS market is different, it concludes.