Year after year healthcare technology has helped increase physicians' access to electronic health information, reduce medical errors during care episodes and lower the overall cost of care. With federal and state programs offering incentives to providers for health IT adoption, five areas of technology -- cloud, data exchange platforms, wearable technologies, data analytics and artificial intelligence -- will have the greatest effect on healthcare providers in the next five years.
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Most cloud providers' healthcare products now protect patients' data, meet HIPAA and FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Section 11 compliance requirements, and deliver a wide variety of healthcare-specific, cloud-based services. Services such as infrastructure as a service to support hospital expansions, software as a service for EHRs and others will contribute to the growth of cloud adoption. Competition between cloud providers has pushed them to offer increasingly powerful functionality that adds value to health IT departments. When evaluating what cloud has to offer healthcare, IT executives commonly take notice of the following areas.
- The extendibility of cloud-based applications, especially as storage options, as the growth of computing needs within healthcare continues.
- The cloud's resiliency and high availability contribute to many experts' belief that it's a cost-effective alternative to an on-premises storage implementation.
- Careful study of overall compliance and security. Many of the top service providers have made significant investments to ensure hackers can't penetrate their systems and have put backup capabilities in place in case of emergency.
- Time: The cloud can provide almost immediate computing, storage and application services.
Data exchange platforms
An uptick in interoperability among systems is another reason care coordination has improved. The increased adoption of enhanced healthcare standards by EHR vendors and device manufacturers has helped data flow more efficiently among systems and devices. Examples of this include the way data from wearable technologies can be included in EHR systems, or the way providers using two different EHR systems can share patient health information.
Some patients are interested in tracking specific health information outside their doctor's office. This desire has driven technology companies to create myriad wearable devices that are cost-effective and easy to use. The adoption of health and wellness devices that track consumer's fitness activities, sleeping habits, body temperatures and heart rate has been significant. The popularity of these devices has caused many physicians to recognize the value wearable devices offer in capturing relevant patient health information. As this adoption of this trend continues to expand, more physicians will prescribe a set of wearable devices and mHealth apps to patients in need, forcing the industry to innovate and integrate these devices as part of the care episode.
With the growing volume of health data, many CIOs are banking on the potential of analytics tools. Developing a healthcare data analysis initiative has been a common strategic goal for many providers. The spike in available data will continue to be a driver for these initiatives. Information generated from end users in EHRs and from wearable devices will continue to be the central focus of analytics initiatives. Applying analytics to healthcare data presents hospitals with an opportunity to increase care quality and achieve cost savings.
Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants
Consumers of smartphones today are already harnessing the power of virtual assistants. Apple's Siri, Google Now, IBM's Watson and Microsoft's Cortana are a few of the virtual assistants with artificial intelligence available on mobile devices. From the voice of Google Now, consumers can receive a notification to take an alternate route to avoid heavy traffic, or Siri can notify them of the latest football scores. Cortana users can interact with native Microsoft apps through speech or get health advice from Watson on their smartphone.
These are all examples of how many of today's systems offer an efficient and interactive experience for consumers and patients. Machine learning, natural language processing and cloud computing are opening the door to technological innovations that are changing how we interact with data. For patients, these benefits may manifest in the form of virtual wellness assistants or life coaches, or interactive digital systems that can provide information about medication dosages and side effects.
Users and developers of telemedicine continue to receive significant incentives from federal and state entities. Typically, patients that reside in rural areas get more funding because they may not always have access to specialists within their area. Both patients and physicians are becoming far more comfortable using telemedicine technology as a way to communicate. This includes remote monitoring of patients while they are at home. Tools that will encourage collaborative patient care are becoming mainstream. An added bonus to the continued development of healthcare technology is the cost savings they can produce.
Looking ahead, healthcare will continue to face significant challenges. The industry will experience political and regulatory uncertainties, reimbursement cuts and increases in the instances of chronic diseases. The need for technology to combat these changes while enhancing care and reducing costs is paramount. Both physicians and patients must take steps to evaluate the technologies available to them and understand how they can derive value from them.
About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.
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