HIT Think

Why soaring potential elevates the role of healthcare IT

Traversing the halls at HIMSS19 can leave attendees feeling overwhelmed, and the challenges facing the healthcare industry, and IT in particular, can be massive and vexing.

However, many of my conversations in Orlando this week can be characterized as being significantly optimistic. There’s no lack of positive vibes that the importance of the industry is on the upswing.

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It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the industry is dealing with problems that are nice to have, far different than the ones that drove people crazy 10 years ago.

What do I mean?

The problem of 10 years ago—why don’t healthcare organizations buy and use electronic health records?

Today’s problem—now we have all this data from electronic health records; what are we going to do with all of this stuff?

There appears to be broader acceptance of the fact that information technology will be an integral part of efficient, intelligent, cost-effective healthcare delivery in the future. Now, we are merely grousing about having the wrong nail for the job, when at least we have a hammer that we can use to do the pounding.

The value of information technology has sometimes taken time to acknowledge, but when the uptick comes, it can be dramatic.

Some 12 years ago, Roy Schoenberg was taking a shower when the idea for a company that provided telemedicine connectivity and services came to him. At that time, providing healthcare via a telephone was an idea that had wandered in the wilderness with little pickup and hardly any reimbursement. Now, the company over which he presides, American Well, has contracts with dozens of well-known provider organizations, and—more importantly—both providers and consumers are realizing the many benefits of nearly instantaneous care access made possible by the smartphone.

Similarly positive on the future is Taha Kass-Hout, MD, now a senior leader for healthcare and artificial intelligence at Amazon. He described several real-world initiatives in which Amazon Comprehend Medical has partnered with healthcare organizations.

He sees increasing use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to use organizations’ existing data, gathered over the years in their EHRs, to gain important insights for care. Amazon Web Services is positioning itself to apply the cloud, machine learning and other capabilities to solve specific use cases.

He believes the industry will see exponential growth in the ability to use computing power over the next five years to provide tailored, specific care to patients that will be optimized for effectiveness. Advanced IT will be applied to difficult problems such as medication errors and the validation of treatments. Deep analysis of information will enable more accurate predictions about optimal patient care, enabling better outcomes.

Also count Marc Probst, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, as someone who’s bullish on the potential of healthcare IT. He’s hopeful that recent advancements in precision medicine, enabled by genomics, will better target care for patients in the future.

New technologies will place more demands on IT systems, such as clinical records systems, that are now taxed by the capacity and database demands from data-dense technologies such as genomics and imaging.

Far from weighed down by these new IT challenges, Probst is energized by them, he says.

“I wish I was 15 years younger,” so he could continue to participate in the next exciting decades for healthcare IT. “These are exciting times for this industry.”

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