In the past, IT was simply considered a functional department within most healthcare facilities. Today, thanks to widespread product innovation and federal drivers like the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), IT is viewed as a key component in the overall strategy of a healthcare delivery organization (HDO). With this in mind, it’s not surprising that a recent study by cloud services provider Peak 10 shows that 67 percent of 157 healthcare leaders surveyed anticipate health IT budgets to increase in the next two years.

As more money is dedicated to technology, much more is expected from these investments as well. It’s not enough for technology solutions to merely digitize information or enable processes; they must play a central role in optimizing productivity, efficiency, revenue and patient outcomes.

As a result, healthcare CIOs need to spend their IT budgets wisely to ensure these types of measurable returns in a short time. Certainly, satisfying meaningful use and other compliance-based criteria will drive a great deal of IT spending, but CIOs must look beyond simply ticking these checkboxes and aim to address larger strategic goals through IT.

One of the biggest issues facing healthcare providers today is integration and interoperability of health IT systems. Digital health data lives in a wide variety of proprietary systems that don’t inherently work together, such as EHRs, PACS, financial management systems, lab systems, disease registries, prescription management systems, document and image repositories, etc. The increase in merger and acquisition activity among HDOs only compounds the interoperability issue. In many instances, health systems not only have to deal with integrating different system types, but they also need to assimilate inherited systems of the same type as part of a provider acquisition.

While the federal government and the healthcare industry have several health IT interoperability measures in place, none are close to achieving a universal fix to the issue. As such, healthcare providers must be able to develop an effective enterprise health IT integration strategy on their own.

Health data interoperability is of the utmost importance because the measure of any technology investment is dictated by how well that technology works for the people using it. Technology deployed in silos has limited impact. Investments in health IT solutions that break down data silos, promote free exchange of patient information, and enable universal health data visibility through core clinical systems pave the way to optimizing productivity, efficiency, revenue and outcomes on an enterprise scale.

Data security is another key strategic concern for any healthcare CIO looking to prioritize how to spend their IT budget. PHI (protected health information) has become a primary target for cybercriminals, and no HDO wants to be the victim of a data breach. These events can harm a healthcare provider in numerous ways, costing an HDO millions in litigation and legal fees, along with inflicting irreparable damage to the organization’s reputation and potential future revenue.

There are many IT investments hospitals and health systems can make to shore up security. These include implementation of encryption and intrusion detection systems, but they all need to begin with solid data consolidation and management. You can’t effectively secure patient information if you don’t know where all of this content resides and thereby can’t control it. Regular data audits are a must, and IT investment priorities should be given to those solutions that will help you reign in patient content so that appropriate safeguards can be effectively applied.

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