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What are the Top Technology Priorities for Health System Leaders in 2018? A New Survey Sheds Some Light

December 7, 2017
by Heather Landi
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A new survey provides some insight into how hospital and health system leaders are prioritizing healthcare technology investments for next year with strong indications that healthcare leaders are focused on investing in proven technology solutions that will have an immediate impact, and are proceeding cautiously with emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI).

The survey, conducted by the Pittsburgh-based Center for Connected Medicine (CCM) in partnership with the Health Management Academy, reflects the opinions of healthcare C-suite leaders from 20 major U.S. health systems across the country. CCM is a collaborative health care executive briefing center and is operated by five partners — GE Healthcare, IBM, Lenovo Health, Nokia, and UPMC. The Alexandra, Va.-based Health Management Academy is a membership organization consisting of executives from the country’s top 100 health systems focused on sharing best practices.

CCM and the Academy conducted a quantitative survey of IT leaders, specifically CIOs, chief medical information officers (CMIOs) and chief nursing information officers (CNIOs) at about 25 leading health systems, followed by quantitative interviews with health system CIOs, CFOs and CEOs at 20 health systems about health IT trends for 2018 and how these trends fit into the overall strategy and priorities of their health systems. The corresponding survey report, “Top of Mind for Top U.S. Health Systems 2018,” focuses on five areas of health IT, namely cybersecurity, consumer-facing technology, predictive analytics, virtual care and artificial intelligence.

Healthcare Informatics spoke with Gary Bisbee Jr., Ph.D., co-founder, chairman and CEO of the Health Management Academy as well as Bryan Clutz, Ph.D., researcher director at the Academy and Melissa Stahl, research manager about the implications of the survey findings on future health system technology strategies and investments.

An overall emerging theme from the survey was that while health system leaders are excited about the prospects of emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning, yet the majority are proceeding cautiously on these technologies and continue to be focused, instead, on proven technologies and IT initiatives, such as enhancing existing electronic health record (EHR) systems, standardizing IT platforms and cybersecurity solutions.

“One thing that was surprising to me was the priority level around AI and machine learning; it tends to be a topic that health system leaders talk about frequently. When we reached out to our informatics executives and in talking to our CMIOs, CNIOs and CIOs, many indicated that implementing AI and machine learning technology solutions in 2018 was a much lower priority,” Stahl says.

In fact, the survey found that more than half of health systems currently use AI, but 63 percent of hospital IT executives ranked the implementation of AI solutions as a “low” or “very low” priority for 2018. Executives reported that AI is in its early stages where proving its value is difficult and the technology still needs refinement, but they expect the technology to have greater impact in the future, according to the survey report. And, responding health systems expect to spend an average of 2.6 percent of their IT budget on AI in 2018.

In the report, one CIO who was interviewed said: “In think that health care is still figuring out how to get value from data in general. We have use cases, but they are not ubiquitous. Until data is ubiquitous, it makes AI hard to prioritize. Additionally, it’s great to predict something but if you don’t have a corresponding intervention it doesn’t do much. It’s interesting, but still an experiment.”

The most common areas in which health systems have, or are planning to, implement AI technologies are clinical decision support (59 percent), population health (46 percent), disease management (42 percent), readmissions (41 percent), and medical costs/health plan (38 percent).

Health system executives report that they have implemented AI in more operational areas such as revenue cycle, billing, and scheduling, but have less commonly implemented in clinical areas. Health systems are starting to utilize AI for clinical areas such as readmissions and risk scores, however, this is commonly in a pilot stage and hasn’t been fully integrated. Only 4 percent of health systems currently use AI for cancer care, and only 8 percent have plans to add AI technology for cancer care in 2018, and cited cost as a factor. Even with these challenges and slow adoption, information executives anticipate AI technology will impact the use of unstructured data at their health systems in the near future (three to five years), according to the survey.

“Overall, a major theme that kept appearing when talking to health system leaders about the challenges of implementing solutions in all of these areas was the financial pressure that these health systems are under,” Stahl says. “When they talk about implementing predictive analytics or AI initiatives or even strengthening cybersecurity, cost constraints and resource constraints, and trying to find talent, those were overarching themes in healthcare, in general. Financial pressure is really seeping into all of these trends and making it hard for health system leaders to navigate implementing a lot of these technologies, even if they see value in implementing them, but there are competing priorities and a great deal of financial pressure that makes it challenging to do so.”

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