Hospital Tech in 2016: Balancing Innovation and Risk in the New Year

Healthcare Tech 2016

During his tenure as director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr. Farzad Mostashari treated the media to a number of quotable soundbites. On one memorable occasion he equated the adoption of health IT — in this case, EHRs — with slaying dragons. Indeed, after falling behind other industries in terms of leveraging IT, the healthcare industry has made considerable progress towards meaningful use goals. With the year coming to a close, it’s time to look at where our quest to transform healthcare with hospital data analytics will take us — and what dragons we may encounter along the way.

Fostering Innovation Can Drive Cost Savings

Given the on-going pressure that hospitals and other healthcare providers face in the push towards value-based reimbursement, innovations that support cost savings will thrive next year. According to PwC’s annual assessment of upcoming issues within the health industry, technology will play a crucial role in moving the healthcare industry along that path to lower cost, high quality care.

Healthcare consumerism will push innovation to manage health spending.

Gone are the days when patients didn’t question healthcare professionals. Now that patients are shopping for health insurance and making decisions about premiums, deductibles and more, they are acting more like retail consumers. Hospitals and other healthcare providers must change tactics and embrace this new reality. In many cases, the responses will be decidedly low-tech, such as offering services to help consumers plan for healthcare expenses or implementing reward programs similar to those common across retail and travel industries. In addition, online payment portals, provider review sites and price-shopping tools will continue to expand in the drive to offer the transparency and convenience that consumers demand.

The healthcare industry will embrace smartphones, connected medical accessories and apps.

Up until now, says PwC, these technologies have been underutilized. PwC predicts that “in 2016, care will begin to shift into the palms of consumers’ hands, helping to drive down costs, increase access and fulfill the public’s desire for ‘anywhere, anytime’ monitoring, diagnosis and treatment.” The driving force behind this trend? Consumers. In the past two years, the number of consumers who have installed a health-related app on their smartphones increased from 16 percent to 32 percent. With consumers rapidly adopting connected health technology, healthcare providers need to recognize that, “From ‘bedless’ hospitals to smartphone medicine, a growing share of care can be delivered remotely.” 

The biggest barrier to adoption of remote technology remains reimbursement. Becker’s Hospital Review cites survey results showing that while 90 percent of family physicians say they would use telemedicine if paid to do so, only 15 percent say they have used it in 2015.

High-tech databases will help hospitals get more from EHR data.

 An eHealth Initiative survey found that only 17 percent of healthcare providers have successfully integrated population health analytics with EHR systems, citing the challenges of interoperability and non-standardized data. PwC notes that new, powerful tools for conducting hospital data analytics, including non-relational databases, “… arrive at a time when the industry is thirsting for ways to make good use of a swelling ocean of consumer and health data.”

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) uses these databases for its research already, but many more will join the Institute’s ranks in 2016 as they look for ways to leverage EHR, clinical and cost accounting data to make progress on improving care quality while reducing healthcare costs.

Be Conscientious in Your Tech Outlay

As the past has proved, technology advances — particularly in the arena of healthcare data — will continue to pose risks. The ECRI Institute notes that in 2016, hospitals will need to use caution to ensure that healthcare IT configurations are well supported within facility workflows to reduce the risk of errors.

Data security will also be a major consideration in the new year. In addition to concerns about data breaches that compromise the security of HIPAA-protected patient data, innovations ranging from mobile apps to connected medical devices like insulin pumps will only increase the risk of hacking. The PwC report notes, “The FDA has issued warnings and guidance documents about cybersecurity, and says it expects — but does not require — manufacturers and healthcare providers to ensure only ‘trusted’ users can access devices.” Having access to information sources to further enhance hospital data analytics will drive better outcomes and cost savings, but it will also demand greater attention to cybersecurity.

As PwC points out, “While no hacked device is known to have caused patient harm to date, recent hacks of organizations from insurance companies to retailers show those unprepared to deal with breaches can suffer lawsuits, lost revenue and reputational harm. An estimated 85% of large health organizations experienced a data breach in 2014, with 18% of breaches costing more than $1 million to remediate.”

What health IT dragons will be slain in 2016? That remains to be seen, but it’s clear that healthcare providers have much to look forward to as the healthcare transformation adventure continues.

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