This is the time of year when our in-boxes fill up with predictions and prognostications for next year. On the policy front, I think the election has thrown everyone for a loop, so we aren’t sure what to predict. But on the tech side, there are trend lines developing that are interesting to project out into the future.
One report, in particular, caught my attention: IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide Healthcare IT 2017 Predictions. Because I thought a few of its predictions were quite intriguing, I called up IDC Health Insights analyst Lynne Dunbrack to discuss them.
The first IDC prediction might cause some sleepless nights for our CIO and CISO readers: By 2018, there will be a doubling of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations. The report notes that more than a dozen U.S. hospitals were affected by ransomware in 2016. The research firm expect the problem will get worse before it gets better with the incidence of ransomware doubling over the next 24 months as cybercriminals get more brazen and their attacks get more sophisticated. I asked Dunbrack why IDC expects the problem to get so much worse.
She said part of the challenge is the fact that the cybercriminals have become so much more sophisticated. “It used to be that you would get a letter from a Nigerian prince that was full of grammatical errors. You knew this person was never going to send you a check for $10 million,” she said. Now they are doing a much better job of sending something that looks real. In a version of phishing called “whaling” they are seeking to steal credentials from senior executives and doing insidious things like transferring funds. “It become a more significant problem,” she said.
Ransomware will continue to be a big problem for smaller healthcare organizations, because they are behind the curve in terms of investing in cybersecurity technology such as predictive analytics, Dunbrack added. They are more at the stage of just having a firewall. “You have large, mature healthcare systems that have CISOs, but critical access hospitals don’t have the resources to make those investments in leadership or technologies.”
Another intriguing prediction: By 2019, there will be a 50 percent increase in the use of robots to deliver medications, supplies, and food throughout the hospital.
Dunbrack said some large hospitals such as the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) are already deployed robots to bring medications and supplies to hospital floors. I asked her what implications the use of robots might have for CIOs.
She said there is a lot of integration work that has to happen between clinical information systems and robotic systems, and mapping out the hospital, so the robots can navigate safely throughout the hospital. Hospitals will have to integrate transportation technologies with the clinical scheduling and booking systems. The report notes that, “autonomous robots will require reliable WiFi connectivity and bandwidth plus comprehensive distribution of sensors and a mapping of the facility.”
“There is a lot of work involved in deploying these sorts of robots,” she said, “but you can potentially give caregivers more time to do direct patient care.”
As organizations begin to deploy these robots that can handle the jobs that humans do, there are human resources implications, she added. “In a lot of communities, especially rural communities, healthcare organizations are among the largest employers in the community. In addition to the technical issues associated with deployment, there are also real social implications. “Are we able to redeploy and retrain those staff or have we replaced people with robots and what does that do for the community at large?”
Another ambitious prediction that caught my attention: By 2019, 60 percent of healthcare applications will collect real-time location data and clinical IoT device data and embed cognitive capabilities to discover patterns. “IDC predicts that automating clinical documentation by leveraging data collection from IoT-based sensors and speech recognition will help to reduce clinician documentation time by 30%, thus allowing clinicians more time to spend on direct patient care and collaborating real time with colleagues to get to a more accurate differential diagnosis,” the report said.
Dunbrack noted that automating clinical documentation is a huge issue from the provider side. “Physicians have been talking about how cumbersome EHRs are. They often feel like all they are doing is typing. So in the next generation of EHRs there will be more focus on making it easier to input the data, so the clinician can spend more time with the nuanced piece of it and not transcribing from devices.”
Not just IBM’s Watson, but other vendors are starting to offer cognitive capabilities that take information from devices and provide more insight than traditional decision support would. She gave as an example a company called Cognitive Scale. It is working with Intermountain Healthcare to help with care for Type 1 diabetics. A CognitiveScale press release says that its Cognitive Cloud Fabric weaves together artificial intelligence and natural language processing. It pulls data from databases, electronic medical records and claims systems, social media, and remote sensing devices and then presents patients personalized recommendations to help them successfully manage their health.
While cognitive computing is being deployed first at large health systems and cancer centers, Dunbrack said IBM and others are making strides at providing it as a service so it is could be more within reach of smaller health systems.
Given how long it has taken to fully deploy some features of the EHR such as patient portals, I am a little skeptical that the changes described in the report will come as quickly as IDC predicts, but it does seem clear that the Internet of Things and cognitive computing are about to have a big impact on every industry, not just healthcare, and the pace of change appears to be accelerating.