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Three Health IT Trends to Watch in 2016: Cybersecurity, Telemedicine and Partnerships

March 18, 2016
by Bill Yager, Associate Director, Navigant Consulting, Inc.
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Health information technology is a significant tool that drives the manner in which hospitals, health systems and payers do business today, from both a marketplace and regulatory perspective. Federal rules and regulations mandate that providers comply with a host of billing, patient privacy/safety and Meaningful Use standards. For instance, with the recent implementation of the ICD-10 diagnostic codes, providers allocated tremendous financial and personnel resources to ensure regulatory compliance; electronic health record (EHR) interoperability facilitates the efficient flow of communication and information updates vital to a patient’s health; health IT and new digital apps have transformed the manner in which providers deliver care to patients; and health IT plays a vital role in advancing an organization’s revenue cycle management processes to reach financial and business goals.

To help providers unleash the power and potential of health IT capabilities, Navigant’s healthcare practice identified three healthcare IT trends in 2016 that will have a profound impact on their business:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Telemedicine
  • Partnerships

Trend #1: Sophisticated Cybersecurity Protects Against Complex Cyberattacks

Cybersecurity and the threat of outside breaches present an assortment of risk challenges related to patient privacy and safety. However, these attacks are not new. The first cyber bug on record infected networks in the 1980s. And now, four decades later, criminals still find ways to infect IT networks with more sophisticated attacks.

Bloomberg Business reported that criminal attacks against healthcare providers have more than doubled in the past five years, costing the U.S. healthcare system $6 billion per year. Previously targeting retail and financial sectors, these attacks now focus on medical records. Why the change in effort? Medical information is worth 10 times more than a credit card number on the black market, according to Reuters.

The concern for protection from cyberattacks continues to escalate. Risk assessment ensures an organization’s overall security positioning, including protection of patient information. In recent years, the role of the chief information officer has grown increasingly complex as cyberattacks become more sophisticated and damaging to an organization’s reputation. Given the profound implications of cyberattacks on a health system’s market value, and the danger related to compromised patient information, these issues need to be addressed at the highest level in an organization, including the CEO and board of directors.

As a method to protect patient privacy, providers must understand if their transmittable data is at rest or in motion. All levels of the organization must come together to develop a holistic and comprehensive strategy that bridges the gap between technology, risk management, and cybersecurity. It is imperative to adopt policies and security safeguards to protect patient health information (whether it is stored on paper or electronically).

Trend #2: Technology Enables Patients to Own Their Healthcare

From a consumer perspective, IT helps patients take control of their health through increased accessibility to healthcare records and self-tracking. A 2014 report from PwC found that one in 10 Americans use a wearable fitness device every day. The same study found 56 percent of consumers believe the average life expectancy will grow by 10 years because of wearable-enabled monitoring of personal vital signs. Increased access to information creates more value for a patient, and often healthier outcomes.

Dr. Ethan Basch of the University of North Carolina and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently studied advanced cancer patients to see if self-reporting led to improved quality of care. The patients inputted any symptoms they experienced into an online patient portal in real-time. The study found that because a physician had highly accurate recorded data, the physician, in turn, was able to provide better treatment. The patients likely benefited from closely following their own symptoms as well. Both the physician and patient made better decisions in the treatment plan because of increased communication and overall knowledge.

Increased collaboration between physicians improves overall quality of care. For example, physicians on one side of the country can read X-rays in real time and consult with providers on the other to improve diagnostic accuracy and outline effective treatments. EMTs can video-conference radiologists when answering a 911 call to evaluate whether a patient is experiencing a stroke or a hemorrhage – two serious episodes that have similar symptoms. The University of Southern California announced a virtual care clinic that will “see” patients via virtual providers. In all of these innovations, the instant access to physicians improves efficiency and reduces costs.

Trend #3: Companies Must Enhance IT Services and Offerings

Health IT is central to an organization’s growth strategy and ability to compete effectively in an ultra-competitive and highly-regulated environment. Hospitals and health systems understand that in order to compete effectively, drive business growth and evolve organizational capabilities and offerings, they must acquire the technological infrastructure/components to achieve these goals. One option, among many, is to acquire companies with these specialized offerings or merge with other systems. Merger activity and industry consolidation will continue to accelerate in 2016—sometimes for the express purpose of building out IT and RCM capabilities to help manage costs.

In 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented the Meaningful Use program to provide incentive payments to hospitals and physicians for proper operation of certified EHR technology. Meaningful Use supports the expected growth in healthcare IT. To access the incentive, companies need to have supportive and secure IT infrastructures.

Companies partner and acquire other entities to build out their IT capabilities and to achieve these incentives. Accenture acquired Sagacious Consultants to expand their EHR capabilities. Huron Consulting Group acquired Cloud62 to enhance offerings in Salesforce.com and related cloud-based applications. Dell and EMC signed an agreement joining these two industry powerhouses of digital transformation, mobile and security. Mergers continue to come about in the industry.  

As hospital consolidation continues, healthcare providers need to assess the pressures associated with remaining independent. Further, providers considering a merger must ask themselves whether a sale, merger or other partnership will provide better delivery of its patient care mission and help the organization remain successful.

Conclusion

Information technology is a vital tool to help support the growth and expansion of hospitals and health systems. Integrating health IT into all aspects of an organization is critical to achieve Meaningful Use standards and compliance, patient safety, revenue cycle management capabilities, operational efficiencies and much more. IT is no longer a nice-to-have, but a critical business imperative and IT remains an integral factor in regulatory compliance and achieving incentives from CMS and other government organizations.

The industry will continue the dialogue around cybersecurity, telemedicine and increased company partnerships. However, costs containment strategies will continue to be top of mind for hospital executives. Companies need to understand the importance of investing in healthcare IT and see it as necessity. Smart, strategic decisions and use of IT will help to ensure future success.

Bill Yager is an associate director with Navigant’s healthcare practice who advises healthcare clients to translate business requirements into sound systems’ solutions.

 


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