Editor’s note: This is Part Two of Local Tech Wire’s conversation with Tom Skelton. Each Tuesday and Wednesday, LTW will go one-on-one with a leading tech executive. Tom Skelton, chief executive officer of the recently formed Misys Healthcare Systems, says he is where he wants to be. But he also says the healthcare business is going to grow more competitive in the future.

In the second part of a Q-and-A, Skelton also talks about digital healthcare records and the need to increase productivity.

Would this be your career choice if you had the chance to begin over again?

Without a doubt. Yes. Healthcare technology is the most innovative thought-provoking business I have ever encountered. If you’re one who actually thrives on change, if you’re one who seeks constant new challenges, this is a business that will feed you energy.

I have been here (Medic Computers) since ’81, and the business has changed so much. You first had to explain to doctors that they needed a computer, and then we had to tell them they needed our computer. The demand has gone from wanting to create efficient billing to electronic medical records to managing patient information. And now, most importantly, to the plain fact that doctors are demanding that they must deliver better care. Think about this, between 1999 and 2000, 25 percent of the competition went away in this industry from companies acquiring each other. That’s change. The bar has been raised and I am thrilled we are here to deliver.

What do you do to let go of stress?

I work out at 5:15am everyday. I must fit that in. I also enjoy coaching ice hockey for my son. My three kids are the ones that keep me sane and in line.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield has announced plans to go public, can you comment on how you believe this will impact your industry and hospital care?

No doubt, it is a big move requiring a change in mindset. But, it’s not a surprise. It’s what they have to do to stay profitable. The emphasis Blue Cross and Blue Shield has put on digital improvements and technology over the past two years is what has turned the company around.

As I was saying before, healthcare is very competitive now. All sides (insurance, hospitals, health care providers, consumers) are all getting squeezed.

Clearly, Blue Cross and Blue Shield decided this was the best decision to go public.

In your opinion, why now ?

It’s not just them. There are major market issues facing us: roughly 6.9 percent increase in healthcare cost last year; second, the economy is growing by one to one and a half percent; and third, pharmaceutical cost are up at an alarming rate.

The question is how to provide better services. Part of the answer is in information technology. Misys will now be a bigger player. It now makes sense for us to be sitting around the table taking part in industry discussions are how to impact change. We’ve historically been a part, but certainly, the impact is much bigger now.

What do you think about digital healthcare portability?

It’s where we’re heading. The investment is worth it. Business is seeing a shift to a mindset primarily from doctors and healthcare providers of ‘How can I and how do I take better care of patients?’

That has to be what the whole industry gets focused on. We have a great opportunity to capture those decision makers and make a difference everyday. Bottom line is that doctors will be able to provide better care to patients.

Related to that, analysts have viewed Medic as a conservative company? Do you agree with that?

No. I wouldn’t call more than a billion dollars spent on research and development conservative. Nor, would I consider a business models that produce sales of $400 million conservative.

We do focus on products and services that work, and by that I mean, products that can sell. We complete detailed analysis and talk to our customers and make sure we’re responding to demand.

There’s considerable discussion about the security of electronic records and storing data, what are your thoughts?

Electronic records security has its own set of special challenges, from consumers and health-care providers. Legislation will address the security issues. The real question surrounds the movement of a patient’s data. They are valid concerns and we have an obligation to solve it.

The flip side of it, which is not too far in the future, acting within the proper security, wouldn’t it be great if after your doctor visit you could go on the Internet to view your test results. Another example is if a patient has to be hospitalized when they are out of state, the fact that records can be sent electronically to the treating physician. There are many applications.

Where do you see the next steps for the future?

First, find ways to get our products in more places.

Second, even with $47 million spent in R&D last year there are products out there we’d like. Although, we clearly understand we can’t do everything. We’ve learned from others who have failed because they cannot do justice to the product with limited distribution.

So given that, would you say it’s fair that Medic is not the first out of the chute with new technology?

Yes, but we’d rather say that we’re the second cop in the door. We will be the heroes, the market leader. Not important that we introduce every technology ASAP. We take part in new technology only if it drives value in the market.

Third, point is that we remain user-focused. To our customers we are critically stable, and they can always count on our service. We understand that if a customer can’t accept a product or make use of it, it is of no value to them.

For Part One of the Skelton interview, click here: www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=185