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Five Health IT Trends I’m Looking Forward to in 2017

December 22, 2016
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It has undoubtedly been another fascinating year in health IT—one filled with hope, concern, and transformation, the last which our Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland terrifically wrote about earlier this week.  Hagland wrote, “There’s no segment of the healthcare industry that is not significantly changing. But more importantly, the signposts seem to be getting clearer and more closely spaced apart these days—and that is significant.”

Indeed, the pace of change in healthcare IT continues to be extremely rapid, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But with that comes excitement and opportunity, and the next 12 months is sure to be even more exhilarating than the last. That’s just how healthcare works. As such, here are five broad health IT trends that I am looking forward to reporting on in 2017:

A continued push towards quality. I have no shame in admitting that I like to debate/argue/discuss with people in my social circles about all kinds of issues across all sectors. To me, intelligent discourse is a positive thing. But for obvious reasons, this year, some of those political conversations turned nasty. I bring this up because one thing that most people could agree on is that healthcare’s shift from reimbursing clinicians for volume to paying them for quality outcomes is appropriate. This was evident in the bipartisan support seen in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). MACRA, of course, set to launch its first reporting period next year in which eligible Medicare clinicians will be reporting to a Quality Payment Program that determines a physician’s reimbursement based on the high quality, efficient care they provide that’s supported by technology. It’s noteworthy that MACRA is supported by most members of Congress, regardless of political party; last year, the House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 392 to 37, while the Senate voted 92-8 in approval.

MACRA is not the only indicator that healthcare leaders believe in accountable care, either. Across the U.S., there are an increasing number of instances of physician groups taking on more risk and embarking on true care management and population health journeys. Not everyone is mature in this area, of course, but as healthcare spending is projected to reach $5.631 trillion in 2025 (according to Medicare actuaries), the pressure is on to provide better quality care at lower costs. We’re going to see more of this in 2017.

An increased emphasis on cybersecurity. It was much earlier this year when Healthcare Informatics decided to tackle the ransomware crisis (yes, it’s a crisis) in a two-part series, which can be read here and here. The big takeaways from our reporting were: the threat is more real than ever before as major healthcare organizations literally have had to conduct full shutdowns of EHRs and enterprise-wide information systems due to security breaches; and that patient care system leaders absolutely, with no exceptions, need to make cybersecurity much more of a priority with more advanced defense strategies, or the same troubling trend will continue to get worse. Has there been any headway here in recent months? Honestly I would say probably not.

Data security company Protenus runs its “Breach Barometer” report every month, a monthly snapshot of reported or disclosed breaches impacting the healthcare industry, with data compiled and provided by DataBreaches.net. They reported that November saw an acceleration in the growing trend of health data breaches with 57 separate breach incidents, or an average of almost two per day, the highest in 2016.

Meanwhile, a year-end Black Book survey of healthcare C-suite executives reported that, “Recently, unsophisticated, smaller hospitals were targeted by ransomware attacks because of insufficient defenses, and holding data hostage quickly cripples a smaller organization.  33 percent of CIOs and IT leaders in hospitals over 500 beds, including chains and corporations expect massive patient privacy issues in 2017.” In the end, health system executive boards will have no choice but to invest more time and resources into protecting their data, and they will need to leverage outside help to do so. How many more major data breaches do we need to read about until the trend reverses? That’s a question that no one should have to answer.

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