by David Glenn RCDD, CTS-D, LEED AP BD+C, Systems Designer

From augmented reality to artificial intelligence, modern communications technologies are transforming every facet of the healing experience. And as the Millennial population continues to grow, how will healthcare delivery evolve to keep up with the technology-centric patients of the future?

At the recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference & Exhibition, leaders focused on ten key healthcare developments. These trends impact how healthcare is delivered and are forcing the industry to adapt and embrace new technologies, improving business practices, practitioner workflow, population health and ultimately, individual patient outcomes.

Telemedicine/Virtual Health
Imagine never having to visit a doctor or hospital again. Is it realistic to consider that physicians will be able to diagnose and treat patients without an in-person visit? Many large healthcare providers have offered this type of remote care for years. The current challenge is reimbursement and convincing insurance companies to embrace this type of care delivery. Through a secure portal on a computer or an app on a smart phone, patients can connect to board-certified doctors 24 hours a day and receive prescriptions without leaving home. Smaller providers are beginning to investigate virtual health and offer this service to their customers. And employers and health plans are increasingly adding telehealth as a benefit. Expect to see a faster and broader adoption rate in the near future.

Cybersecurity/Cloud Solutions
Cybersecurity is a major concern for industry leaders. Healthcare is the #1 targeted industry for cybersecurity issues. Given significant breaches over the past couple of years, this topic has gained global attention. As more and more providers are forgoing on-premises data centers and moving to the cloud or a hybrid-cloud approach, the need for proactive cybersecurity solutions is immediate and will continue to grow.

Connected Healthcare
This is quite possibly the biggest challenge facing the healthcare industry right now. One of the results of the Affordable Care Act is a surge of electronic health record (EHR) platform implementation. The purpose of the EHR is to connect healthcare providers and patients and to make patient data easily transportable and instantly available. As more and more devices attempt to improve patient outcomes by integrating their data into the patient’s EHR, research and development and Population Health considerations arise. Every provider and vendor has their own way of doing things, and there is not one clear solution. Nonetheless, market forces are at work, and we must address this very important issue, as clinical devices and consumer wearables are producing beneficial data at an exponential rate. It is vital that we create reliable protocol for securely transmitting, storing, accessing, and utilizing this data for improved patient outcomes.

Compliance/Regulations
Many are hopeful that the anticipated broad deregulation of the healthcare industry will help bring healthcare technology into the 21st Century. While regulations are extremely important, they also hinder the interoperability of various technologies and the sharing of data among researchers and practitioners. Patients are often frustrated at the amount of paperwork that is required prior to every visit with their provider, and many do not understand why healthcare appears to be lagging behind other industries in technology adoption. Hopefully the appropriate balance of regulations is found to allow the healthcare industry to adopt well-proven and sustainable technologies that other industries are quickly adopting.

Precision Medicine

Precision Medicine primarily deals with genomics, an individual’s environment and associated lifestyle, big data, analytics, and data-driven care. Currently, Precision Medicine is more prevalent in the research and development aspects of healthcare. Closely relying on artificial intelligence, machine learning will bring added value to Precision Medicine. The continued success of Precision Medicine is contingent on health data that is portable and can be easily shared between providers, researchers, and most importantly, patients and research participants.

Value-Based Care

Patient-centric and with measurable patient outcomes, value-based programs reward healthcare providers with incentive payments for the quality of care they provide. Value-based programs strive to provide better care for individuals, better health for populations and ultimately lower cost. Value-based programs are important because they encourage paying providers based on the quality rather than the quantity of care they give patients.

As an example, Aetna explains four models of Value-Based Care and strives to design the approach around patients while, “medical care teams zero in on individual needs, whether preventive, chronic or acute. You benefit from a team that coordinates your care, and technology that connects you and your providers with information to help you get the right care — across the health care system.”

Blockchain Integration
Blockchain is based on open-source software, commodity hardware, and Open API’s. APIs are sets of requirements that govern how one application can communicate and interact with another. An open API (or a “public API”) is a publicly available application programming interface that provides developers with programmatic access to a proprietary software application or web service. These components facilitate faster and easier interoperability between systems and can efficiently scale to handle larger volumes of data and more blockchain users. The architecture has built-in fault tolerance and disaster recovery, and the data encryption and cryptography technologies are widely used and accepted as industry standards. Think of this as a Bitcoin type of secure database. The financial industry is already adopting this technology. There are many use cases for blockchain in the healthcare industry.

According to Gem Health, a provider of enterprise blockchain solutions, “This technology allows participants to move data in real-time, without the need for reconciliation, because each participant is connecting to the same network, working on shared information, and collaborating peer-to-peer  —  all without exposing these channels to theft, forgery and malice.” Because the integrity of this history can be proved mathematically, everyone can trust that it is secure and true.

A recent report from Deloitte showed that, while the technology is a hot topic in industries from financial services to telecommunications, healthcare is planning the most aggressive deployments, with 35 percent of health and life sciences respondents saying their company plans to deploy it within the next year.

Population Healthcare
Population Health is an approach that intends to improve the health of an entire human population. By closely monitoring the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group, providers can aggregate patient data across multiple health information technology resources. The analysis of that data into a single, actionable patient record, assists providers in improving patient and financial outcomes. Compliance, Regulations, EHRs, and the lack of sharing proprietary information is a hindrance to Population Healthcare’s success; however, Artificial intelligence and machine learning will help advance its momentum in the marketplace.

Artificial Intelligence / Cognitive Learning
AI will likely have the greatest potential impact on the healthcare industry in our lifetime. Providers are going to have to adopt some sort of AI platform in the coming years if they do not already have one.
Some of the world’s largest companies are making significant investment in AI. For example, IBM has invested a significant amount of research and development into IBM Watson Health (yes, the machine from Jeopardy a few years ago). IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty delivered the HIMSS keynote on this topic.

Human Intelligence: Fatigue
The retention and burnout of healthcare providers is a concern shared by many. Due to current technologies, providers are spending countless hours every day clicking buttons in an EHR rather than spending time practicing. This is causing some millennials to leave the industry or not enter at all.

The time to change is now. The healthcare industry is well aware of the need to deliver the level of care that the soon-to-be majority Millennials will demand from their healthcare providers. With the advent of this new patient/consumer generation, the healthcare industry must quickly adapt and change business practices to embrace these demands.

Top photo courtesy Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences