A report from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) and The Health Management Academy entitled "Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2019, Insights from health systems on IT priorities for the year ahead" has predicted that cybersecurity, telehealth and interoperability will be the most significant areas of health IT in terms of impact on health care in 2019.
These areas were identified following consultation with health IT executives from some of the US's largest health systems, and quantitative and qualitative data was subsequently collected to explore each of these three areas further.
Improvement in cybersecurity programs was found to be the top priority for these executives. Breaches, and the potential exposure to harm that they pose to institutions (in terms of finance and reputation) are, however, being limited via network segmentation.
Maximising connectivity within the bounds of enhanced security, is the mission for health systems as data access requirements and use of connected devices and the Internet of Things increases. Health systems are spending on staff education and on security elements including firewalls, intruder detection software, and dual authentication to combat phishing, spear phishing (which employs targeting to a greater extent), malware and ransomware, these being the more common forms of attack seen over the past year according to this report. Regarding staff education one CMIO explained that in their view now: “An aspect of being a good clinician is stewardship of electronic patient data.”
The potential advantages of telehealth, in terms of delivery of logistically appropriate care at low cost, make it, in terms of impact, the second ranking area of health IT in this study. Health IT executives unanimously envisaged an increased adoption of telehealth in 2019 with lack of reimbursement being cited as the greatest restriction to this currently, although there is an expectation that commercial and government payers will increase their contributions over the coming three years.“Integration with the clinical workflow” and “ease of patient triage and virtual follow-up” were the key features, identified in this report, that health executives are looking for in telehealth systems.
Although most health institutions in this study were not yet utilising advanced tools such as artificial intelligence (A.I).and machine learning (ML), the data from telehealth projects (and in particular those that involve remote patient monitoring) offer scope for analysis in order to create algorithms that could assist in prevention by predicting which patients are at greater risk i.e. the potential for machine learning to be employed to assist in prevention.
Interoperability was the third area identified in this report as significant, indeed, indicative of this sentiment is that fact that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who helped to drive the digitalisation of health systems through it's Meaningful Use requirements have, this year, changed the name of this program to "Promoting Interoperability".
Goals for interoperability in health care include data being easily accessed and downloaded by patients but also data being available for use in appropriate applications. Conversely inability to easily exchange data was described in this report, as having made it harder for health systems to address particular priorities, these being most commonly: improved efficiency / cost reduction, and advanced analytics, with the later being valuable as it in turn offers scope the areas of network integration, efficiency, identifying cost reductions and better patient care delivery. Addressing care gap closure, longitudinal patient data, and integration with non-owned partners were also identified as elements of the industry that are hampered by poor interoperability.
Interoperability has also been described as important in terms of innovation in healthcare technology because when a health system employs EHR from a larger vendor, looking outside of that vendors offerings for additional functionality becomes less appealing.
While the large technology companies, Apple, Amazon, and Google for example have prevailed other industries, they are relatively recently bringing their consumer-centred style to the healthcare industry. However 70% of informatics executives reported being “somewhat concerned” about Big Tech companies,
such as Apple, Amazon, and Google, entering the health care space with 10% "very concerned" according to this report. Despite this, health system executives were also reportedly aware of the potential for partnership with these “Big Tech” companies.
With data centers an impractical answer to massive data volume storage in the longer term, most respondents in the report view a move to the cloud as certain eventually. However when asked to consider the next three years and where they expected the majority of their organisation's health care data to be stored , most executives (60%) answered in hybrid/private cloud, with 20% predicting that data centers will as the main location and only 10% envisaging storage in public cloud.
Looking beyond 2019 and over the coming five years, according to the contributors to this report we can expect artificial intelligence (AI), consumer technology, and genomics to provide the greatest impact health care.