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Top health care tech trends of 2010: IPad, mHealth, EHRs

The year 2010 was pretty busy for health care tech, as CIOs witnessed the iPad revolution, shored up wireless networks and wondered where mobile health will take them in 2011.

Those working in health IT will come to see 2010 as a watershed year for health care technology, mainly because of two events. One is Apple Inc.'s release of the iPad, which brought mobile health technology to the forefront of health care. The other is the federal regulatory kickoff that smashed a bottle of champagne on the hull of what federal leaders hope will be an interoperable, nationwide network of electronic health record (EHR) systems.

What were the most important health care tech trends in the past year? Here's a quick look at 10 of them, based on stories that has published and on conversations our reporters have had with health IT experts.

The iPad. Following its release this spring, doctors snatched up the iPad, just as consumers did. Similar tablets running Android and Windows have not hit the market with such ferocity, leaving the health care market all to Steve Jobs and Co. To make it work in health care environments, large vendors are publishing iPad versions of EHR systems, while such small ones as ClearPractice LLC are developing native Software-as-a-Service EHR systems that can work independently of wired networks. Meanwhile, radiology vendors are porting Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) viewer applications to iPads so practitioners can show images to patients.

More on the year in health care tech

Meaningful use and mobile health were hot topics in health IT for 2010

As health IT policy evolves, federal agencies take on new roles

EHRs. No Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act incentive money for meaningful use will go to physicians unless they use certified EHR systems to collect, report on and analyze patient data. In the market, software vendors are guaranteeing that users of their systems will be compliant with meaningful use. In addition, five organizations -- chief among them longtime health care tech certifier Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) and market newcomer Drummond Group Inc. -- have been deemed authorized testing and certification bodies by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). That process has brought into being a new awkward acronym -- ONC-ATCB.

Mobile health. Nurses and doctors are using smartphones for communications and rudimentary computing. The public uses smartphones to access personal health information, monitor chronic conditions, research symptoms and medications, and communicate with health care providers. Though the market for mobile health software and services currently is less than $100 million in annual revenue, one analyst firm projects explosive growth --to $1.7 billion in revenue by 2014 -- for mobile health care tech.

Wireless networking. Mobile health is expanding health care practitioners' tasks into the world of mobile phones, and practitioners and patients alike are demanding highly available wireless networks. At the same time, IT leaders are scrambling to expand hospital wireless networks to accommodate EHR implementations, new mobile patient-monitoring devices and patient needs. At the same time, they are safeguarding patient information on wireless networks in accordance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy laws -- which suddenly have more teeth, thanks to the HITECH Act.

HIPAA effects. Bigger fines. More rules, now and in the future. Being required to report major health care data breaches, which the government will post publicly. Oh, and state attorneys general, not just the federal Office for Civil Rights, now able to prosecute violators: All this adds up to health care organizations rethinking business associate agreements with their vendors, as well as shoring up training, network security and data breach prevention policies.

Telemedicine. Companies like Verizon Communications Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. are pouring millions into infrastructure in 2010 -- and insurers finally are acknowledging, after decades of denial, that telemedicine is a viable, less expensive and legitimate way to administer patient care. Those developments are setting the stage for the rapid expansion of this health care technology. The expansion of broadband Internet to rural parts of the United States will only further demonstrate how telemedicine can change care delivery.

The expansion of broadband Internet to rural parts of the United States will only further demonstrate how telemedicine can change care delivery.

Decision support. Stage 1 of meaningful use requires using decision support tools. At this point, for most practitioners this means using drug-interaction database software that is hardwired into EHR systems. Stages 2 and 3 of meaningful use could make data analytics and decision support a technology centerpiece, however.

International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), version 10. The U.S. health care system is catching up to the rest of the world in its transition to ICD-10, which many countries have been using for several years, Health information managers are scrambling to get the coders -- and coding software -- to tackle this tenfold expansion of the reimbursement coding set by the federal government's Oct. 1, 2013, deadline.

Cloud storage. On one hand, health care data centers are bursting at the gills with increasingly sophisticated imaging equipment spewing out more and more pixels -- and EHR implementations will only expand the size of databases. The rough economy isn't expanding IT budgets at the same rate, either. On the other hand, HIPAA fears and health care providers' lack of trust in cloud computing vendors -- warranted or not -- prevent them from putting clinical data into the cloud. The standoff is at a tipping point, however, and the cloud is poised to change health IT.

PACS. Medical images (including such videos as cardiology studies) typically are big, up in the range of megabytes or even gigs. Meaningful use mandates health information exchange, the use of personal health record services and a host of other technologies that require PACS managers and radiology system administrators to share that data outside their formerly peaceful, siloed environments. Reaching out into the world outside medicine -- with lightweight image files and basic viewers that nonetheless preserve compliance with privacy laws -- is one more task on PACS administrators' plate.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, Features Writer.

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