15 top healthcare information technology trends for 2018

  • January 19 2018, 4:00am EST

New trends accelerate change within healthcare IT

Various experts in healthcare IT expect the pressure will grow on healthcare information technology to achieve measureable benefits over the next 12 months. We queried several key knowledge experts in the field and compiled this list of technologies and trends that are likely to impact provider organizations over the coming years.

EHRs must deliver more value

Healthcare organizations will be continuing to focus on deriving value from their investments in electronic health records systems. In part, this will come from optimizing their use in healthcare settings. Jay Deady, CEO of Recondo Technology, predicts 2018 will be the year that EHRs finally become revenue generators. For example, providers can have technologies embedded in EHRs to recoup lost revenue from denied claims because eligibility or authorization issues weren’t cleared up before a procedure or service. With robotic process automation and rules engines, providers can send an authorization request from the same system they schedule or document a service, Deady contends.

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Rising adoption of artificial intelligence

Efforts are continuing to incorporate artificial intelligence in assisting clinicians who are making clinical decisions. Early efforts have not lived up to the hype, but specific use cases for AI are expected to emerge in 2018. For example, the latest machine learning, deep learning and workflow automation technologies appear to be accelerating interpretation, improving accuracy and reducing repetition for radiologists and other specialties. During the annual RSNA conference in November, AI was by far the most talked about trend. “There are certainly many potential use cases for AI workflow improvements in radiology,” says Morris Panner, CEO of Ambra Health. “The rise of AI applied to workflows will be uneven in 2018, and health systems that have the infrastructure in place” will have a decided advantage.

Artificial intelligence will help EHRs deliver benefits

Artificial intelligence and analytics will help EHRs deliver greater value, a trend that will accelerate in 2018. “We will begin to benefit from digital investment through the application of advanced analytics and the capabilities of artificial intelligence,” says Joyce Sensmeier, vice president of informatics for HIMSS North America. “Combining the experience, knowledge and human touch of clinicians with the power of artificial intelligence and analytics will go far to improve the quality and lower the cost of patient care.” The move to cloud-hosted services delivered via mobile technologies will accelerate, and machine learning will enhance the usefulness of EHRs so that they become valued tools to clinicians instead of just burdens, adds John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Technology aims to mitigate the risk of value-based care

As provider organizations take on more value-based care contracts, they’ll be assuming an increasing level of risk. Healthcare IT will become more important in assessing that risk and mitigating the potential effects. “In 2018, technology will follow risk. For the last decade, technology has followed funding sources, such as grants and federal funding initiatives—now, more healthcare organizations are ‘at risk’ for some portion of the care they provide. Technology is being procured to assist organizations in managing and improving care to the patients in the risk pool,” says Patricia Wise, vice president of health information systems for HIMSS North America.

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The push grows for interoperability

Various government and industry pressures will increase the likelihood that interoperability approaches and trusted exchange frameworks will begin to show fruit in 2018. “We will start to see clear pathways for health information and technology professionals, organizations and entities to realize their interoperability goals through these efforts, thanks in large part to the 21st Century Cures Act,” says Mari Greenberger, director of informatics for HIMSS North America. The movement to make it easier to share data will grow because of a new wave of coordination, says Bill Fox, global chief technology officer for healthcare, life sciences and insurance at MarkLogic. Value-based care “will force unprecedented coordination between healthcare payers, providers and pharma,” he says.

More tools emerge to achieve information exchange

Healthcare organizations have been waiting for emerging standards and technology to enable easier data exchange, and some first fruits are expected to emerge this year. “In 2018, the decentralization of our healthcare system will continue,” says Indu Subaiya, executive vice president of Health 2.0, a HIMSS innovation company. “The key factors driving this decentralization include new means of achieving interoperability, such as FHIR and blockchain; increased access to data with more sophisticated analytics and new modalities to interact and communicate around that data such as augmented reality and virtual reality.”

The cloud looms larger

Healthcare organizations are increasingly adopting various forms of cloud computing to improve data management, increase access to health information and reduce IT expenses. One area where the cloud is having an impact is in imaging, where providers are looking to vendor neutral archives and the scalability of the cloud to create a centralized store for physician productivity and care, says Keith Hentel, MD, executive vice chairman of the department of radiology at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Our physicians want to see the compendium of multimedia on a patient in one unified environment. We're going to be investing a lot in our VNA, to help combine radiological imaging data with, perhaps, dermatological, or endoscopic data, and their EKGs.”

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Precision and personalized medicine gathers steam

“In 2018, we expect a significant increase in the purchase of precision medicine solutions, but with distinct buying patterns that can identify who is adopting next,” says Blain Newton, executive vice president of HIMSS Analytics. “Our models indicate approximately 160 hospitals or health systems will be highly likely to purchase precision medicine solutions in 2018, an increase of 45 percent over the previous two-year average. We expect a majority of this purchasing growth to occur in larger health systems.”

Precision medicine also will become a demand from patients, says Mike Monteiro, chief product officer at Aspire Ventures. “Patients’ tolerance for one-size-fits-all diagnoses and therapies is reaching a breaking point, and soon patients will demand that data be taken into account by doctors. 2017 was a record-breaking year for precision medicine investment, and the returns on those investments could start paying off in the form of better public health much sooner than we think.”

Information systems take in more relevant data

As providers take on more risk, they’re becoming more aware that they need more data that describes the totality of a patient’s circumstances and conditions, as well as medical data from their day-to-day lives. Records systems must incorporate this outside data so clinicians get a complete picture of a patient’s life circumstances and how that impacts his or her health. In the realm of population health, providers will step up efforts to address the social determinants of health, says Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health. “Health IT systems that help entire communities stay healthy and population health management will soar in importance this year,” he says. “Ongoing improvements in analytics and care management are making it easier to prevent illness and care for those with chronic conditions. The social determinants of health—including access to care and services, reliable transportation, housing, education and nutrition—will become the focus of many more healthcare systems and social service providers.”

Providers will seek to prevent, rather than just respond to, security events

Data security continues to be a major factor as healthcare systems move to centralized cloud storage facilities. Security tactics will shift with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning from reactive protective measures to proactive prevention, says Morris Panner, CEO of Ambra. “Data security teams, with the help of machine learning and AI, will have an increasingly important role for predicting security infringements before they happen,” he says. “Health systems and practices will need to continue to invest heavily in people with IT security skillsets and products that leverage machine learning to get ahead of global IT security challenges.”

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Hackers will become increasingly sophisticated

Generic, brute-force attacks will be replaced by more sophisticated gambits that will be harder to detect and more likely to pay off. Here are some to watch out for:

Targeted ransomware: “This involves a focused effort to penetrate a large and often well-protected entity,” says Eugene Weiss, lead platform architect for Barracuda, a cyber defense solutions firm. “The successful targeted attack often involves several hours of research as well as trial-and-error attacks.”

Enterprise spear phishing: “In 2018, there will be a large increase of multi-stage spear phishing attacks that involve multiple steps, research and reconnaissance on behalf of the attacker targeting a small number of targets for very large payouts,” says Asaf Cidon, vice president of content security for Barracuda.

Complex domain spoofing and brand hijacking: “Domain spoofing has been increasing rapidly and will continue to grow through 2018. Criminals use domain spoofing to impersonate a company or a particular company employee. The criminals often send emails to customers or partners of the company to steal credentials and gain access to company accounts. This is quickly becoming the costliest cyber-attacks out there today, says Fleming Shi, senior vice president of technology for Barracuda.

Patient participation in their care becomes crucial

Technology is empowering patients to become more involved in their care, says Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health. “Patients, especially millennials, are continuing to be frustrated by old-school processes for accessing care and their health information,” says Hochman, who points to the increasing emergence of tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon as potential solutions. Creating an ongoing dialogue between physicians and patients using real-time data will lead to better managed and preventive care and more effective, customized health regimens, he believes.

Providers will seek to monetize digital health

Digital health will create revenue diversification opportunities and speed value-added healthcare technology to consumers, says Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health. Expect more hospitals and health systems to make innovative digital offerings that will be a new source of revenue to offset declining reimbursements from traditional payers. Look for health systems to get directly involved in developing new technologies and ultimately be quicker in bringing new capabilities to the primary care setting.

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Virtual medicine finds a place in healthcare

Telemedicine will grow in importance, says Waqaas Al-Siddiq, founder and CEO of Biotricity, which develops biometric remote monitoring solutions. “Expect to see more telemedicine usage for remote patient triage by healthcare providers to interact with patients before they arrive at care centers,” he contends. Today, telemedicine is limited in scope because physicians lack complete insight into the patient’s condition. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) devices that can transmit medically relevant patient information, such as biometrics, will help provide a more clinically accurate view of the patient.”

Also, telemedicine is a better way to manage chronic diseases than the traditional office visit and will become a standard practice with support from IoT and mobile technologies, says Brent Magers, executive associate dean and CEO of Texas Tech Physicians.

Providers to pay more attention to payment

As reimbursement tightens in a number of areas, providers will continue to improve efforts to get payment for services from patients, trying to reduce uncollectable accounts and days in accounts receivable. Many experts say that the increasing emphasis on patient pay for care will result in more sophisticated methods to calculate the patient portion accurately, gain payment and offer patients affordable payment plans—capabilities that will require tweaks to existing systems.