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Datamed: Latvia is a good testing field for IT products

Security, responsibility, innovation – these are the first words we find on the web when searching for Datamed, a company that has already been working in the field of health tech for several years and has become an integral part in the health services of Latvia. When we meet Normunds Ančupāns, the Director of Datamed, we take the opportunity and ask him what forms their story in IT business.

What is Datamed?

Datamed is a health IT company that develops, as well as maintains systems, and integrates the devices and systems of radiology, including, x-ray, computer tomography, ultrasonography and other functionalities of different producers. We began in 2009 in the field of radiology with a purchase of a PACS (radiology picture archiving and communication system) server system. It was too expensive for the medical institutions to purchase their own, but we placed it in the cloud and began to offer it as an outsourced service. Instead of paying up to hundreds of thousands of euros for their own system, clinics could rent it from us and use the system equivalent to the inhouse one, only at a much lower cost. It turned out that during the global financial crisis, when hospitals were no longer able to afford the expensive solutions, such an effective, simple and comparatively inexpensive cloud solution in terms of costs was exactly what was necessary.

As a start-up we had to decide which way to take. We decided that our niche is medical diagnostics, so we continued with it. We made friends with Medap Systems – the developer of laboratory information system, and added the laboratory system as the second component in our medical diagnostics system portfolio. It was followed by the third component – functional diagnostics, including ultrasonography and cardiology.

By the way, soon we will introduce the fourth component that will provide an opportunity for all patients to choose what is being stored about them. If now in Datamed patient has access to the information and examination results, created by medical institutions only, in the future the patients will be involved in this process. Not only they will be able to control who can access the data, but also create their own archive and their own digital medical card. Our solution has thus grown into a universal platform in which any diagnostic examination, which is available in electronic form, can be sent in, saved and made available to the selected doctor, patient, other institutions or the state e-health information system.

If you had to name the most important competence of Datamed, what would it be?

You should understand the field in which you are working. Become an expert. We are not a software house which programs anything ordered, but rather a health IT company, the employees of which delve into the particular needs of the physicians and the process, and cooperate with them for very many years. And maybe we sometimes refuse to develop a solution that is outside our specialization area.

Our micro-competence is the understanding of radiology information exchange standards and devices where we comprehend how devices, work stations and systems of various vendors communicate with each other. There are few hundreds of medical institutions in Latvia with radiology devices, and each of them has its own set of devices, information workflow and systems.

But our macro-competence is to merge medical devices, specialists, general practitioners and patients into one system. Currently an image in full diagnostic quality can be forwarded from any institution to another, and the physician who receives the image can view it and provide diagnosis remotely, even before the patient arrives for the visit. It is provided by the Datamed system which gathers about 2 million examinations every year, the system is also connected to internal Information systems of laboratories and clinics. If anyone is skeptical about the implementation of e-Health in Latvia, we say that e-Health has already been operating since 2009.

A practical example is a case of emergency medical assistance, when a person gets into a severe accident somewhere far from Riga, the capital. No specialists of a relevant level or particular competence are available on the spot, and the Emergency Medical Service doctors in Riga, who work at the Traumatology Institute or in Stradins Hospital should be involved. If the regional hospital sends the image, the specialists can look at it even in the middle of the night on their computer, provide an operative initial consultation and decide whether a team of paramedics should be formed that will go to the patient, or if remote consultations can be provided and the local personnel can do the surgery. 10 years ago there were no other options, the paramedics had to drive to the patient even if they had to spend four hours on the way, or they had to fly.

Where do you see Datamed within 5 years?

We have done good work in radiology, but it is likely that very few new medical institutions will appear here, but rather consolidation will continue. Therefore we have to think about new products, new services, a new approach.

In the local market we can think about integration with suppliers of other solutions, such as information systems or health portals, currently about five. In the small market of Latvia it is unnecessary for such similar portals to exist concurrently, and some common solution has to be found, which unites us so that the patients have a single location where they can log on, register for a doctor’s visit, and receive results at this same location a day later, as well as manage their insurance, prescriptions, documents, their e-health. It may be difficult for mutually competing companies, but we should aim for it. Local hospital Information systems like ours will be more integrated to the Ministry of Health driven state Health Information system which is currently accelerating, thus forming the so-called e-Health solutions eco-system.

What does export mean to you?

In our limited national market there has to be an idea of export in the beginning, when the company is founded. Latvia is a good field for testing, where technologies and products available to everyone can be quickly promoted and tested while working in a micro-model. We are also considering how to make a product exportable during its initial development stage, so that when we have perfected it, we might move forward to other markets.

We began with Russia, where we already had some contacts. And the first project came soon enough; in 2011 we implemented radiology information system and archive in the largest hospital of the coldest town in the world – in Yakutsk. There are many great examples to share about the Russian and CIS market, and I guess many of these notions can be applied to other markets too. For instance, humanity is very important in Russia and CIS. Nothing happens if we do not go and process everything on the spot. Much time has to be spent on establishing contacts. Human contact is sometimes more important than the agreement that has to be signed. Colleagues had a case, when the new client paid immediately after receiving the commercial offer, saying that they needed the results quickly and that the agreement would be signed some time later.

What forms the IT story of Latvia according to your opinion?

One of the most successful things that I already mentioned is that Latvia is a good micro-model for prototyping and testing large products and solutions. Our society is sufficiently compact that it can be reached quickly with various marketing tools, and the majority of start-ups are using it.

Education or the intellectual potential in the state is good, although it is small in numbers. If a team had to be formed now to launch a new idea, it would require much effort and investments, because all IT specialists are already working somewhere and very few are seeking a job. Managers are complaining about it, but is our educational system able to produce more programmers? Would 2000 apply per year? Where from? Currently there are approximately 30 000 IT specialists in Latvia, which totals almost 1.6% of the population. Maybe there cannot be much more! Think about the percentage of people, who can actually be mathematicians, physicists and IT specialists! In the USA, according to various sources IT specialists form almost 1% of the population. In the world – an average of 0.25%. Calculation source:

Therefore, maybe we do not have to make everything ourselves. It is perhaps sometimes good to buy or lease something that has already been made. Not to waste resources repeating, but to aim for innovation.

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