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.
Uncertain developments becoming more certain. This one seems vague, but it expands on the idea of the first trend I wrote about above. When President-elect Donald Trump won the election last month, the world—including the health IT world—sort of went into a tailspin. No one knew what to expect after having the country run one way by the same person for the last eight years, with more of that expected as political pundits all but declared Hillary Clinton the winner. But then in a few short hours on Nov. 8, that all changed.
To be frank, there is still a ton of uncertainty today. As it relates to health IT, how will a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled Congress impact things? We don’t know for sure, but I would encourage readers to check out at this article we wrote shortly after Trump’s victory. Policy folks seemed to suggest that while Trump’s likely new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary pick, Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA), could be in favor of more de-regulation and thus easing the burden on doctors, it’s not like there will be massive changes in how technology will be leveraged for better care. To this end, Leslie Kriegstein, vice president of congressional affairs, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), noted in the above-mentioned story, “I don’t see many health IT surprises in this space, as there is a recognition that patients and clinicians alike are empowered with the use of technology.” Meanwhile, much less is known about Trump’s pick of Seema Verma to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), but I recently dug deeper into that. So while I don’t blame those who are concerned with the lack of direction right now, I do think that any time there is major change, there is always an initial period where we panic. But as things continue to unfold and positions eventually get confirmed, I do believe we will have more assurance in the days to come.
More progress and collaboration around interoperability. Last week I wrote a story about a collaboration between CommonWell and Carequality, two initiatives designed, each in their own way, to promote health data sharing. At first glance at the announcement, I thought it wasn't a huge deal, but then I dug deeper and spoke to the expert of all experts on health information exchange, Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative. Tripathi said that the agreement between CommonWell and Carequality—which will enable CommonWell subscribers to engage in health information exchange through directed queries with any Carequality participants, as well as make a Carequality-compliant version of the CommonWell record locator service available to any provider organization participant—is “akin to AT&T and Verizon Wireless cell phones finally being able to talk to each other.” Tripathi called the collaboration “the last core building block” for health information exchange from a technical and network perspective. Now, he will be the first one to admit that plenty more challenging work is still ahead, but the fact that competing health IT vendors are now converging and collaborating more than before is a great sign for the future of interoperability.
More stories of innovation. The editors of Healthcare Informatics just recently selected our winners for our annual Innovator Awards program, and my gosh were there some good submissions. I’m not just saying that either since it’s our program; it was very hard to eliminate some teams’ projects from contention, which actually made our jobs tougher! What does this tell us? Well, while I can’t reveal the winners or their tremendous innovative work just yet, I can tell you that there were dozens of worthy candidates. This signals that the industry is continuing to make great strides in their ability to deploy IT to solve the myriad of challenges in front of them. I can’t wait until you, our readers, get to read these stories in January. They set a great example for the innovation that can be accomplished in healthcare.
With that, I wish everyone a very happy holiday and New Year. Onto 2017!