General Electric is on a mission to improve efficiency in hospitals and is setting aside $2 billion for its health care practice.

GE says it will fund the development of software and applications over the next five years that can expedite or improve clinical processes in the U.S., and in emerging nations.

Hospitals and GE have one thing in common: They are both under pressure to adapt to the digital age.

GE’s health care arm is currently its largest software developer. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake as hospitals upgrade their systems and adopt new technologies in order to meet federal guidelines. According to a federal mandate, hospitals, clinics, and other health providers will receive “Meaningful Use” checks in the mail for ditching existing paper-based systems. If they don’t comply by 2015, providers stand to be penalized.

The goal for the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare” is to drastically reduce national health care costs. Although it is proving expensive for providers to make upgrades, new computer-based systems are expected to boost efficiency in the long-run.

GE isn’t the only firm that expects to cash in as doctors go digital. Cloud companies like Box recently delved into health care and are building software that is sufficiently secure and compliant. Likewise, venture capital firms are making bets in digital health, and investment is steadily increasing.

GE is investing in software to help doctors securely collaborate and share information, similarly to Box. But its goals are more far-reaching. According to a news release, the primary areas of focus include patient care (scheduling doctor’s visits, clinical decision support), data, and analytics, and using software to minimize costs by maximizing reimbursement rates.

This new investment is aligned with the company’s broader strategy to keep industrial products relevant. GE is integrating physical machinery, like hospital dropboxes, with connected sensors and software. The device spits out relevant data, which will drive a customer’s business strategy.

GE has already committed $1 billion to its “Industrial Internet” strategy and made strategic investments in business software companies like Pivotal.

In a clinical setting, GE says it is already helping to streamline operations. When patients are discharged, their bracelets are placed in a GE box, which alerts staff to clean their rooms. This reduces the amount of time that beds stay empty.

“At the heart of it is that machines can be intelligent, connected, and that we can use software to analyze the information coming out of them,” said GE vice president Bill Ruh. “To support this next frontier requires an architectural shift in how our services are built and delivered.”

Top image via GE.com 

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