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Healthcare // Patient Tools

Health IT's Future: 9 Issues To Watch

Expect the pace of innovation to pick up as healthcare providers increasingly leverage IT to improve patient care, make competitive gains, and save costs.

25 Years Of Health IT: A Complicated Journey
25 Years Of Health IT:
A Complicated Journey
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

They've forged a strong foundation, but technologists and health professionals have more to do to fulfill the vision of a cost-effective, consumer-oriented, patient-engaged industry.

"Future systems will support clinicians and patients as they work together toward wellness," said Joe Frassica, chief medical informatics officer and chief technology officer/vice president for Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions at Philips Healthcare. "These systems will provide increasingly personalized and real-time insights and advice for clinicians and patients and will come to be trusted partners in the care of patients."

Healthcare organizations cannot afford to wait, executives said. Laggards will suffer, unable to catch up to the ever-increasing pace of innovation.

"We are going to see the most significant changes in healthcare in the next five years that will be greater than what we've seen in the previous 50," Todd Pierce, senior vice president of healthcare and life sciences at Salesforce.com, told InformationWeek.

[Want to learn how doctors are using data to improve patient outcomes? See Healthcare & Data: Partners At Last.]

Let's take a look at some areas where health IT will undergo dramatic advances in the coming years.

1. Mobile health apps
Though Apple's Watch, slated for delivery in 2015, has the spotlight for now, experts expect a slew of other Internet of Things devices to attract interest from patients, clinicians, and insurers.

(Image: Christian Schnettelker/Flickr)
(Image: Christian Schnettelker/Flickr)

Apps will simplify how consumers and clinicians track diet, sleep, and exercise, as part of the initiative to promote wellness rather than responding to illness. "Consumers will play a larger role in understanding and managing their health, with the help of apps that will become easier and easier to use," said Markus Fromherz, chief innovation officer for healthcare at Xerox. "The key will be personalization based on real-time behavior observation, not just traditional population health analytics."

2. Data
Healthcare organizations will face mounting pressure to grant clinicians access to analytics tools and big data while being asked to protect patient data. Government or industry mandates could strictly rule whether and how nonhealth and health information are merged as privacy advocates become more vocal about the blurring privacy lines.

3. Security
Instead of focusing primarily on compliance, security will shift toward risk management as healthcare organizations' security infrastructures -- technological, personnel, and management -- mature.

4. Back office
Providers will turn CIOs loose on internal operations, seeking new productivity and cost gains via IoT, cloud, automation, and other technological tools. The goal will be standardization, said Brent Lang, president and CEO of Vocera. "The old saying 'When you have seen one hospital, you have seen one hospital' has to change, and we must move to a model of reliable, predictable, and repeatable results."

5. Telehealth
Expect many of the bureaucratic holdups to disappear as the entire healthcare ecosystem -- consumers, payers, and providers -- recognizes the many benefits telehealth delivers. Widespread access to low-cost cellular or high-speed Internet connections give most patients a way to connect with specialists and allow hospitals to save costs and improve patient outcomes, generating more rapid development of these programs around the nation.

[For more on healthcare IT over the last quarter century, see 25 Years Of Health IT: Highs & Lows.]

6. Treatment
Technologies such as 3D printing, analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine-to-machine learning will propel advances in medicine, executives said. "Imagine a day when disease outbreaks can be thwarted before they have a chance to spread; when IT-enabled tools are available that assist clinicians in making more informed life-saving decisions; when healthcare becomes truly personal and predictive by harnessing the power of a person's genome," said Erik Giesa, senior vice president of marketing and business development at ExtraHop Networks. "IT will play a key role in all these exciting advances, and I, for one, am very excited to watch their development."

7. Interoperability
Today the interoperability conversation focuses on electronic health records. Future conversations will expand to incorporate the gamut of applications and devices used across healthcare systems to ensure they can capture and share all patients' data, no matter where consumers are treated. "I see interoperability across all kinds of technologies as a priority for 2015," said Terry Edwards, founder, president, and CEO of PerfectServe. "This is not something that will happen with the snap of a finger, but I predict more and more healthcare organizations and vendors will strive toward interoperability of solutions and data, helping move the industry toward more effective and efficient models of managing patient care across entire populations."

8. Value, not fees
In their continued shift to value-based pay, providers must add technologies that empower population health and patient engagement, and meet the evolving government mandates such as increasing levels of Meaningful Use, ICD-10, and HIPAA. They might, for example, invest in tools that reduce wait times, automate checkins, improve communications, and analyze high-risk populations. "To manage their revenue cycle, providers will need to manage patient outcomes, clinical quality, and cost/utilization -- and they'll need to manage them all together," Doug Fielding, vice president of product strategy at ZirMed, told InformationWeek. "Value-based care will be the new reality. The transition will be slower than some folks would like or that some experts are predicting."

9. IT departments
IT is likely to partner with specialists such as cloud service providers and HIPAA compiance firms, allowing internal staff to focus on how to integrate technologies into each workflow and department, or how to monetize certain services such as app development or imaging. This environment "is making health IT workers learn more about the clinical side of healthcare operations, instead of just a provider of what I call raw technology services," said Bob Zemke, director of healthcare solutions at Extreme Networks.

How is your organization preparing for the next 25 years in healthcare? Let us know in the comments.

The owners of electronic health records aren't necessarily the patients. How much control should they have? Get the new Who Owns Patient Data? issue of InformationWeek Healthcare today.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 11:02:13 AM
Human nature
Lots to think about here. One thing that jumps out is No. 8, value, not fees. HC providers can try to influence patient behavior, like encouraging someone with diabetes to eat healthfully, but human nature being what it is, they'll have only limited success.

Do you foresee practices "firing" patients who resist efforts to manage their health through lifestyle changes, and thus skewing the practice's outcomes metrics? 
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 12:15:43 PM
data
"Data" another main concern for many organizations. Irrespective of the organization type, it is important to protect customer/client data. Therefore it is important to introduce, data protection acts for the employees.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 2:29:17 PM
Re: Human nature
That is an interesting twist Lorna.  Although that kind of begs the question, will employere fire/not hire employees who adhere to poor lifestyle habits and drive up the cost of their HC.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/29/2014 | 2:49:49 PM
Shrinking of IT
I think I have been seeing a shrinking of IT Staff/Resources.  The move towards cloud computing and infrastructure has also leant itself to IT outsourcing.  Couple that with budgets getting squeezed and I have seen many hospitals move towards smaller IT staffs and enlisting the services of larger EMR providers to offer complete IT solutions.  Not sure yet if this is a good thing...
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:02:52 AM
Re: Human nature
We, as society, must be careful about how we treat data that's so easily available and the blurry lines -- getting blurrier -- around what's 'health' data and what isn't. Many of us overshare on social media. Couple that with the many clever ways marketers gather information on us (like the oft-told tale about Target knowing a young woman was pregnant before she told her family), and it's easy to see why some are concerned about any merger of shopping habits with medical files. Yet, others say, it's important for your doctor to know you live on a diet of fast food, Twinkies, and soda. 

Personally, I think that's absolutely reprehensible. Adulthood means being responsible for our own actions and the nanny state should not step into our bedrooms -- or pantries. Others might argue that healthcare costs are exploding; society pays to care for all those whose health suffers as a result of those poor choices so doctors have a right to know what they're using to fuel their bodies. To me, that's going to far unless it's very clearly marked opt-in.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:05:59 AM
Re: data
Over the weekend I was speaking to someone who works in security at a healthcare system in Florida who was telling me a little about the steps and processes they have to take to protect data from internal staff, the review processes and automated tools they have in place, and what they do if there's any chance someone is looking at a file they shouldn't be reviewing. Because of HIPAA, this is something they're continuously updating and fine-tuning -- and something they couldn't really do as well, without EHRs.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:11:15 AM
Re: Human nature
Not sure of the legalities of this. Employees are protected, at least in theory and on paper, from being fired because of medical reasons. That said, I would imagine you wouldn't have to search very hard to find people who believe they were let go, at least in part, because they had some kind of medical condition; proving it might be difficult, though. And while a company would be very unlikely to say they didn't hire you because you'd had X, Y, or Z, it's pretty tough to think that wouldn't be part of the equation. So if they knew you lived on a diet of Twinkies and Coke, never walked when you could drive, and were on 25 medications, their opinion of you could well be colored long before they read your resume -- if they ever got that far. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 10:15:54 AM
Re: Shrinking of IT
I agree, @progman2000, that we're going to see more outsourcing to solution providers and consulting firms for a lot of the plumbing work. I believe we'll see healthcare organizations rely extensively on internal IT for business-critical roles: Things like developing workflows, creating apps, recommending solutions and technologies to resolve organizational problems and hurdles, or to address big picture things like 'how do we make our patients more engaged' or 'how can we reduce staph infections?' 
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 10:16:40 AM
Re: Human nature
And that's the thing that frustrates me.  I am health and fitness conscious to a fault, and my benefits and insurance costs are shooting through the roof because of my peers that are courting unhealthy lifestyles.  I know employers can't make these types of decisions legally, I am just kind of postulating.  It's unfortunate that the technical age we live in has evolved to most of us sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen, only to go home and sit on a couch in front of a tv screen - we have evolved ourselves to a slow unhealthy death.
Lorna Garey
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50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 1:30:59 PM
Re: Human nature
I live near the border of New Hampshire, and seems like every few years the debate about a helmet law for motorcycle riders comes up. In Massachusetts, a helmet is required. Go over the border and it's not. This to me distills the nanny state argument -- it's more dramatic than twinkies and soda, anyway.

Does society's interest justify forcing people who want the privilege of a license to operate a motorcycle to wear a helmet, so that it's less likely that an accident will result in traumatic head trauma that will render that person (let's be blunt) a burden on his or her family and society as a whole for possibly many years and to the tune of many thousands of dollars? 

Periodically someone runs the numbers and argues, yes. But the measure never goes anywhere because someone argues, how do you put a price on personal freedom? I don't know the answer, but seems like in a civil society, a price does have to be placed.

 
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