2016 was a big year for health information technology. We saw a ton of innovation in the industry, as well as promising new legislation that come out of the Hill. Key points of focus included cybersecurity, data analytics, and population health, all which revolve around the proper use of healthcare data.

Legislators took great interest in the intersect between health technology and value-based outcomes, as MACRA spearheaded the way for what we hope to be a shift in how healthcare payments are made. Let’s look at some of the data provided by HealthcareITNews, and see what we can expect for 2017.

Providers Upgrading Analytics and Cybersecurity

The poll asked 95 healthcare executives what technologies they planned to upgrade in 2017. The top two were cybersecurity (52%) and analytics technology (51%). “We are in an age where technology has extended so far into the realm of healthcare that it has become one of the most critical things, so the heightened need for security follows,” Joe Fisne, associate chief information officer at Geisinger Health System, observes. “And analytics is key, as well. We are investing in some of the Big Data platforms to take information and demonstrate trends, practices and patterns of care, as well as patterns of illness along the way. And that goes hand in hand with population health.”

Big Data has promise in its ability to utilize “large sets of data in meaningful ways, with the goal of improving patient outcomes”, as Vinay Deshpande CEO of Bizmatics says.

Introducing New Analytics, Workflow, and Telehealth Technology

The same poll asked which technologies they planned to introduce in 2017, and the top three choices were analytics and workflow improvement, both at 45%, and telehealth at 44%. “What stands out here is the increasing importance of telehealth as a different form of access as well as a different form of connecting with consumers,” said Brian Kalis, managing director of the health practice at research and consulting firm Accenture. “Seeing telehealth with increased importance can help address labor priority challenges in healthcare.”

Telehealth is something we’ve talked about before as a viable solution in places that sorely lack medical help, such as rural areas.

  • Telemedicine saves time: the ability to remotely manage and treat patients. Telemedicine can reduce the number of in-house visits while increasing options in outpatient care.
  • Telemedicine is efficient and potentially cost-saving: In-house encounters take up much more time than telemedicine appointments, which means physicians may see a greater amount of patients during the day. Clinics, especially those in rural areas, are able to treat a greater population because physicians can treat patients remotely.

A Focus on Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Value-Based Outcomes

Electronic health records were center to health information exchange in 2016, and will continue to be so in 2017. Many are looking to further develop or replace their current EHR. Of the EHR development activities, 60% of survey respondents said improving interoperability, 55% improving workflow, and 47% improving usability were their top goals. A significant 21% were looking to replace their EHRs.

“When you look at the quality programs and MIPS and MACRA, suddenly you are seeing a realignment of incentives where doctors are paid for wellness and quality as opposed to quantity,” John Halamka, MD, CIO at Beth Israel Deaconess System and a professor of medicine at Harvard University said. “Unless you are collecting data about patients across the population, it’s really hard to control expenses, enhance quality and improve workflow. EHRs were put in basically as dumb data communication systems without emphasis on exchange and workflow. But because of payment reform, we have incentives to do data exchange. Different things are bubbling to the top.”

Population Health to Achieve the Triple Aim of Healthcare

Many anticipate population health technology to be key in improving health outcomes in 2017. Population health is a great solution to the “Triple Aim” of healthcare, that is, improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction), improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita cost of health care.  Population health can take the mountains of untapped data floating in EHR software, and create actionable tasks to improve patient experience. The survey revealed 58% said the technology will help enable a better patient experience, 54% said it will enhance the efficiency with which the organization can deliver healthcare, 51% said it will help reduce healthcare costs, 44% said it will improve the health of individuals and thus the population, and 41% said it will help enable a better provider experience.

“There are many early adopters that have population health systems in place and for them there now is a need to enhance the systems and optimize them to integrate them into other systems, hence the increased focus on adding to existing systems in the survey,” said Kalis of Accenture. “For organizations that are launching a new population health system, these are the organizations lagging behind some of the others to get their first implementations in place and thus increase overall market adoption.”

Health Information Technology is More Data Driven than Ever

If there is one thing that can be said about health information technology in 2016, it is the increasing reliance on data. The “untapped mountains” of data that we have are being utilized in innovative and creative ways. We see data being used to improve analytics and clinical workflow, as well as an increase in cybersecurity measures. The two new health information technologies that will see a large amount of development are population health and telehealth, as we have legislation right now looking to providing funding for those respective fields. 2017 will be a year where we will see a focus on improving health information technology through the meaningful use of data.

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