Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

With the growing buzz around healthcare IT, many VARs looking to grab a piece of the electronic healthcare records (EHR) market are met with frustration at the limited opportunities for the channel. Citing large and risky sales cycles, few EHR software providers allow VARs to resell their software. So, are there other opportunities for VARs to grab a piece of an exploding market expected to reach an estimated $27 billion by Avnet?

On the heels of the federal government’s release of EHR definitions, standards and certifications, Channel Insider caught up with Wes Rishel, Gartner’s  vice president and distinguished analyst for the healthcare sector to see if he had any guidance and advice for VARs looking to enter or capitalize on the healthcare IT market.

Good news – opportunities abound.

According to Rishel, EHR is a massive component of the healthcare IT spend, but there are other technologies currently being adopted throughout the industry, including secure networking, diagnostic imaging, analytics and data warehousing and analytics products. Specifically, Rishel points to the opportunity for services around hardware, networking, support and monitoring.

“Most hospitals have 2,000 to 30,000 workstations, and there are all kinds of opportunities for doing spares, maintenance, and the help desk,” said Rishel.

VARs that provide custom-built or proprietary applications should also take a close look at new federal interim regulations around electronic health records, released on January 13. It includes the federally required standards and certifications for EMR deployments.

“It makes clear the government is thinking of EMR as a compilation of products, not a single product, and it covers a range of capabilities,” said Vishel.

The list includes not only the expected personal information, record management and electronic prescription software, but also portal enablement, analytics, and a wide range of other Web and secure networking technologies.

“It is quite possible that VARs could find niche markets by developing components that team well with existing product sets.”

He also says that building vertical expertise in healthcare is an absolute requirement for selling into the space. Vishel says the healthcare learning curve is steep, and attitudes and vocabulary frequently found in the sector are markedly different from most businesses.  To strengthen chances of success, Vishel suggests that VARs build out a highly experienced, vertically focused team, starting with bringing on a senior executive and followed by healthcare veterans.

Distributors are helping to educate, too.  Through Avnet’s HealthPath practice, the distributor provides educational training and resources as well as access to technology suppliers that focus on the healthcare market.

EHR deployments have received a lot of press because of federal incentives  or “pay for performance” cash allocated by the federal stimulus bill. The legislation aims to move doctor offices and hospitals that have not yet done so, to electronic health systems.  Organizations that make the investment will enjoy higher incentive payments on Medicare and Medicaid beginning in 2011. Organizations that do not move to an EHR system will suffer penalties, beginning in 2015.

Rishel says that EMR vendors have greatly left VARs out of their market approach because of the nature of the sales cycle.

“It [sales cycle] is a long process and a big process—it is millions in software and more in services,” said Rishel.  “With that kind of a sales cycle, there is so much at risk with failing to do the implementation well, the vendors are pretty cautious. And, they can afford the sales people.”

Although some EMR vendors are trying to open their channels, Rishel says the vendors are experimenting with nontraditional channels like hospitals that are willing to share the cost with smaller healthcare practices by adding seats and letting the smaller practices utilize the hospital’s implementation.