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IT Innovation in Healthcare: Breaking Down the Barriers

August 10, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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In recent years, there have been various areas of amazing advancements in healthcare IT. But, as costs continue to rise and with an aging population and an explosion in chronic disease nationwide, more transformation is needed.  

To this end, as Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland wrote recently, regarding the Health Affairs estimation that U.S. healthcare spending will rise from $3.3013 trillion in 2014 to $5.631 trillion in 2025, “that figure meets the day-to-day working reality of CIOs, CMIOs, and other healthcare IT leaders, in medical groups, hospitals, and health systems. Because, in order to bend that five-and-a-half-trillion-dollars-plus annual expenditures curve even a little bit, will require a massive investment in, and successful implementation of, excellent health information technology. What’s more, it will require the extreme optimization of healthcare delivery and administration processes, using those IT tools, solutions, and systems. U.S. healthcare can simply no longer afford to be a trillions-of-dollars-a-year ‘mom and pop shop’-type cottage industry.”

Indeed, despite healthcare’s size and growth rate, the sector was long considered an impenetrable, or at least an unattractive, target for IT innovation—but that mindset has shifted. Technology giants such as IBM and Microsoft are more often partnering with providers to improve the healthcare delivery process, while attempting to also bend the cost curve. But, these kinds of partnerships are mostly still in infancy stages.

According to Munzoor Shaikh, a Chicago-based director in West Monroe Partners’ healthcare practice, there are multiple buckets of IT innovation in healthcare, though most providers are still in the very early stages of partaking in them—if they are at all. Shaikh, who has more than 15 years of experience in management and technology consulting, with a primary focus on managed care, health insurance, population health, and wellness, spoke to Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal about these innovation areas, the sector’s biggest challenges when it comes to technology advancements, and what the future has in store. Below are excerpts of that discussion.

Munzoor Shaikh

The mindset around IT innovation in healthcare seems to be shifting. Can you explain why this might be?

Well, I think there are several areas of innovation in healthcare, and we can start with patient access to care. We are in the midst of a digital transformation, and while the world has gotten digital, healthcare is a ways behind. Innovation is more than just connectivity and computers and networks; a lot of it is around the model in which you engage the consumer. For example, most healthcare payers have historically not really engaged with the member; their customers have been other businesses. So they are going from B2B [business to business] to a B2C [business to consumer], and there is an organizational shift around IT innovation.

The same thing holds true for hospitals and clinics. We were talking with a clinic the other day about how they view a patient’s journey. If you look at a patient’s journey map, what are the pain points and how can technology solve them? Some of them are very basic, like mobile apps, reminders, coordination of care, coordination of data in the back end, and a big theme that came up was the automation and coordination of services for members. There is that patient access side, and there are things like virtual hospitals, if you will, where you have Skype, which can represent a similar experience as if you went to a hospital or clinic.

The other bucket linked to technology is analytics, and it’s not the computing power and predictive capabilities, but more a function of the U.S. healthcare system—and the world’s healthcare—as they are struggling with data aggregation. One of the key things that a population health company can do, and does, is data aggregation around claims, clinical, social demographic, wearables, all of that data. We have this theme internally that we have reached the age of a measured life—everything that can be measured is, but can we put it to good use? That has more to do with data science.

The third bucket is around consumer facing. We always talk about how Amazon is changing their relationship with the customer, and Amazon knows a lot about me, such as what I like to eat, buy and what books I like to read. They are able to cross reference that and tailor it to my preferences. This sounds cool, but it’s more than cool. There’s a real function to it; a concept of population learning.