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Data security in healthcare tops health IT buying intentions

Healthcare data security and HIPAA compliance emerged as the top areas in a TechTarget survey of 2016 health IT buying intentions. Meanwhile, cloud and mobility are growing quickly.

As cyberattacks hit health data networks with alarming frequency and HIPAA audits loom, healthcare organizations...

are planning investments this year in data security in healthcare and HIPAA compliance above all else.

That means plans to purchase coveted software systems for population health and data analytics, for example, are likely being deferred as health IT buyers focus on data security in healthcare and compliance, in the face of what is being seen as an emergency situation.

These were among the most striking findings in a survey of health IT purchasing intentions for 2016 conducted by TechTarget, publisher of SearchHealthIT, in conjunction with the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

The survey of 181 health IT professionals also revealed a major emphasis on interoperability, a dramatic new willingness to embrace cloud technology in all phases of IT and a marked movement toward mobile health and telehealth.

Data security in healthcare and interoperability

Health IT observers who viewed the survey said all of these trends reflect an interdependent health IT ecosystem in which interoperability breakthroughs and pervasive mobility are creating advances in care, but also spawning more security vulnerabilities.

According to the survey, the main focus of IT healthcare in 2016 will be compliance and security upgrades, cited by 57.7% of respondents, and interoperability and integration, 51.2%.

Similarly, security far outdistanced all other planned investments, with 53.3% citing security as their top buying priority. As for compliance, 73.5% of those surveyed said their organizations are increasing their spending in 2016.

About a third of the respondents, 37.9%, said they still planned to buy business intelligence and analytics systems, and the survey indicated similar levels of interest in cloud, storage, mobile health and data center.

CIO says cybersecurity top priority

Joel Vengco, vice president and CIO of Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass., said the survey reflects a health IT landscape in which cybersecurity and interoperability are "foundational" assets without which other technologies can't work effectively.

"Cybersecurity is sort of top of mind for everybody right now; it's what every CIO is forced to look at," Vengco, who was provided with the survey results, told SearchHealthIT. "Not much attention has been put to it until now with all these attacks, but now we're getting ready for ongoing warfare."

Vengco said HIPAA audit preparedness and beefed-up data security in healthcare are intertwined. But the larger issue to be confronted in coming years is securing health data as it proliferates through health information exchanges and patient portals and on wearables and mobile devices, he said.

"Just connecting databases to each other creates exposure, but that shouldn't stop us from pursuing interoperability," Vengco said.

For analyst, security is paramount too

Nancy Fabozzi, principal analyst for connected health for market research firm Frost & Sullivan, said the survey findings mirror the evolution of health IT away from a preoccupation with meaningful use and ICD-10 in past years.

Now, while CIOs want to stock up on population health and analytics tools and data centers to navigate the fast-moving transition to value-based care, "cybersecurity is blowing everything else out of the water," Fabozzi said. "Payers and providers all have traditionally underspent on cybersecurity, and none more so than hospitals."

As for health IT's recent embrace of the cloud, Fabozzi said genomics, precision medicine and telemedicine are driving the need for exponentially more cloud storage and disaster recovery, as well as more powerful computing resources to handle the increased volume of data.

"Healthcare is moving away from a bricks and mortar model," Fabozzi said.

Cloud in health IT moving up

Some 83% of the survey respondents said their organizations are looking to boost their investments in cloud technology in 2016.

The top areas targeted for cloud were disaster recovery, 44.9%; mHealth, 34.7%; and data center, 28.6%.

One health IT executive who took part in the survey, Linda Carey, a North Carolina-based healthcare marketing consultant, said the economic imperative of the cloud is too great to ignore now, despite some major providers' continued reluctance to relinquish direct control of their data.

"Everybody's going to the cloud, because the cloud allows you to use what you need," Carey said. "It's renting versus owning."

Carey noted that the survey also showed continued interest in investing in core EHR systems and medical imaging systems. "There's money to be made in diagnostic imaging," Carey said.

Another notable finding in the survey is that health IT executives are moving away from traditional personal computing vehicles for mobile applications.

Although 87% said they were pumping up investments in mobile technologies, only 23.9% said those purchases will be for laptops or notebooks. Nearly half the respondents, 47.8%, said they'd be buying smartphones, with 28.3% opting for tablets.

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