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CIO Survey: FHIR is a Potential Game Changer, Blockchain Overhyped

January 23, 2018
by Heather Landi
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When it comes to IT innovation at healthcare organizations, change is happening at a very uneven pace and hospitals and health systems are approaching it in different ways, a new report finds. While a handfl of surveyed CIOs said their organizations are aggressively moving foward with formalized IT innovation efforts, other organizations are not putting more structure at all behind IT innovation right now, according to a report from Impact Advisors.

Impact Advisors surveyed College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CIO members to examine the current state of providers’ IT innovation efforts and to better understand future efforts. The results, provided in the report “IT Innovation Efforts at Hospitals and Health Systems,” underscores some important realities in the market right now about providers’ efforts to expand and formalize IT innovation internally.

As the report notes, traditionally, IT innovation at hospitals and health systems has been fairly ad-hoc and small in scale, often narrowly targeted on a specific problem or use case. However, given the increasingly competitive health delivery landscape, the report notes that there is no growing interest among some provider organizations to expand, and formalize, internal IT innovation efforts.

One of the key report findings is that change is happening at a very uneven pace, and there is significant divergence among hospitals and health systems in terms of plans for IT innovation. Only 14 percent of CIOs said their organization has established a dedicated IT Innovation Center. Just one-third of all CIOs said their organization has an “internal committee/working group that meets regularly about IT innovation.” Less than 20 percent have a defined portion of their IT budget formally dedicated to innovation and only 12 percent have hosted internal contests or competitions focused on IT innovation.

“At one end of the spectrum, a handful of industry leaders are putting structure and discipline behind innovation efforts, established dedicated IT ‘Innovation Centers’ and forming strategic partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, including IT vendors from other industries,” the report authors wrote. “At the same time, other hospitals and health systems are not thinking about IT innovation at all, focusing instead on just keeping up with cumbersome regulatory requirements, increasingly sophisticated cyber threats and general market uncertainty.”

Many CIOs indicated they are looking externally to drive IT innovation. Thirty-six percent of CIOs cited partnerships with enterprise electronic health record (EHR) vendors, while a quarter of CIOs said their organizations have formed partnerships focused on innovation with a healthcare IT startup. Twenty—three percent cited a partnership with a health IT vendor other than an EHR vendor, and 16 percent cited a partnership with an IT vendor from outside healthcare. Overall, close to two-thirds of respondents indicated their organizations have established strategic partnerships focused on IT innovation with at least one identified stakeholder, and more than a third cited at least two of the stakeholders.

Gauging CIOs’ perspectives on emerging technologies, HL7’s FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) was seen as the technology with the most potential to make a tangible, positive impact in the next two years (chosen by half of CIO respondents). Only 16 percent cited natural language processing, 14 percent cited cloud computing and 12 percent cited machine learning.

Conversely, CIOs view blockchain as the most overhyped emerging technology (cited by 48 percent of respondents). Cloud computing also was viewed as overhyped by 23 percent of CIOs.

When CIOs were asked which area of IT innovation was their highest priority, the top response was “increasing internal operational efficiencies,” which was cite by almost half of CIOs. However, the survey takes a closer look at CIOs with the most structure currently in place around IT innovation (those organizations that have established a dedicated IT Innovation Center), and, among those CIOs, the most common response about top priorities was “enhancing the consumer/patient experience.”  That was cited by 27 percent of all CIOs as a top priority, followed by driving knowledge and discovery (14 percent).

CIO respondents also identified a number of challenges that represent significant barriers to being able to drive more IT innovation within their organization. More than two-thirds of CIOs (68 percent) said other priorities are currently more important and 59 percent cited resource capacity as a significant barrier. Funding is also viewed as a significant barrier to IT innovation, cited by 55 percent of CIOs. As the report notes, only a quarter of CIOs cited “lack of governance/structure to support innovation” as a barrier, which perhaps underscores the fact that many formalized IT innovation efforts are still in the early stages.

Thirty-four percent of CIOs also identified “lack of formal sponsorship from operational leaders” as a barrier, and 27 percent cited “resource skills” as a top challenge.

The survey also asked CIOs about future plans, and the results indicate that IT leaders are sharply divided about their plans for driving IT innovation moving forward. Over the next two years, 43 percent of CIOs said they plan to form new strategic partnerships focused on IT innovation, and 36 percent plan to create more structure internally. Other responses indicated plans to increase the number of internal staff focused on IT innovation, increasing the share of the budget dedicated to innovation, and investing in one or more healthcare IT startup companies.

However, one-third of CIOs (34 percent) said their organization has no plans to take any of the actions listed in the survey question over the next 24 months.

The report authors conclude that the uneven pace of change could lead to further separation in the health delivery market. “Provider organizations that are able to put structure behind IT innovation and set up the right strategic partnerships will get access to technology sooner, learn faster and have many more market leading opportunities with digital health than provider organizations that struggle with IT innovation,” the report authors state.

What’s more, the report authors contend that successful IT innovation requires organizational commitment, experienced leadership, a defined methodology and the right partnerships. “Starting now is essential for keeping up with industry leaders and gaining access to emerging technologies,” the report states.

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