Healthcare interoperability, analytics get top billing in health IT

If the interest in exhibits at recent conferences is any indication, healthcare interoperability remains a priority for providers and vendors alike.

This is the second half of a two-part story on current healthcare trends and how their development will affect the future of health IT. Part one examined how incentive payments have encouraged the use of technology in patient care. Here the challenges of analytics initiatives and healthcare interoperability are explained from the perspectives of vendors and providers.

Everything talks

At HIMSS 2014, I struggled to get through the crowds lined up in front of the booths at the always-popular interoperability showcase. Many attendees were eager to see if this was the year vendors finally made widespread progress in healthcare interoperability.

Fortunately, a lot of progress has been made. At the show, more vendors were able to show that they can reach out to other systems and successfully exchange information. Platforms such as SharePoint and Lync were designed to be able to work seamlessly with other Microsoft applications and some competitors' products.

This can be viewed as a marketing gimmick, but if a company offers tools that easily talk to each other, then more customers will use their products. Healthcare vendors need to put more emphasis on making their products seamlessly work with others and eliminate obstacles that slow the exchange of information.

User-friendly analytics

In addition to healthcare interoperability, analytics has been a well-covered subject during recent health IT conferences. Leveraging data for improving patient care is clearly the end goal. Though this is often discussed at trade shows, many healthcare IT executives return to their desks and realize that it is easier said than done. Big data analytics is a rewarding, but complex undertaking.

Microsoft's plans for business intelligence (BI) and analytics seem to have shifted focus from few years ago. The company and its product development team have shifted from catering to the report writers and data specialists to focus on end users. This shift is seen in many of Microsoft's BI presentations that describe the value of their self-service platform and show how it puts the end user in the driver's seat without requiring any special advanced technical skill. While this does not necessary mean less work for database engineers and business analytics groups, it simply puts more control into the hands of end users. These are the people that know what they want better than anyone.

Tools such as Power BI offer some eye-opening features, such as the natural language query engine which enables end users to simply make such requests as: "Give me the total number of patients seen today with this condition." The system then returns a chart and different options for graphing the data. Healthcare can certainly benefit from giving clinicians easy-to-use analytics platforms that allow them to easily interact with data to discover new patterns and insights.

Keep innovating

Wearable devices, smartphones, mHealth apps and other products have been important innovations that have opened up new data for healthcare to explore. While not all innovations provide equal value, they each play a key role in helping healthcare with its challenges. Microsoft has seen its fair share of successes and failures when it comes to innovation. Some of its products have failed, but most have been a tremendous success for them.

As healthcare continues to evolve and introduce new things to the marketplace and continue to invest in research and development, we will continue to see more successes than failures. Certain products or gadgets may have hype surrounding them and fail to gain wide adoption. That has been the case for things as simple as the iTriage App, which was widely used by patients seeking to make a quick attempt at self-diagnosis prior to seeking care.

Unlike Microsoft, healthcare is not led by a board or by its shareholders. While the vision of what Microsoft customers would like their future to be dictates the capabilities its products have, healthcare has some different rules it has to play by. Patient care is not always at the top of the priority list for everyone involved in the business of healthcare. The reality is that there is no quick fix or gap analysis that provides us a roadmap to get from where we are today to where we want to be tomorrow. Sometimes the results of an initiative are not seen for many years to come, if ever.

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
editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

This was first published in April 2014

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