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IDC, AHIMA predict health IT trends, purchasing priorities

What health IT trends will drive purchasing decisions in the coming months and the next few years? Two leaders in the field gaze into their crystal balls and predict what's next.

Providers will have their eyes on data analytics, care coordination, interoperability and mobile health this year as they seek the best practices for regulatory compliance and efficiencies to drive the bottom line, according to analysts.

File this one away for your next budget meeting: Analysts at IDC Health Insights and the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) have issued health IT trends reports that predict this year's purchasing priorities for the U.S. health care system.

Hospitals will invest in business intelligence (BI) software and clinical data analytics, its cousin on the patient care side, a team of IDC health care analysts said in a Jan. 12 webcast. These applications will help create efficiencies -- and revenue -- and pay for themselves first. They also will help health care providers prepare for accountable care organizations, whose model of care coordination and interoperability is among the major health IT trends of the coming years.

Clinical data analytics technically is not mandated in meaningful use rules, but it does help create data points for clinical decision support, which is mandated. Furthermore, the closer to real time these systems provide feedback, the more hospitals will be able to avoid errors and the costs associated with them. BI tools also will help drive efficiencies that offset the potential losses the health care reform law will bring -- if it survives challenges on Capitol Hill.

"Having all this digitized information certainly provides a role for the deployment of clinical analytics, clinical decision support and relevant clinical alerts," said Lynne Dunbrack, program director for connected health IT at IDC Health Insights. "That's the important thing. … You need to figure out and sort through some of the signal noise and send only the clinically relevant alerts to clinicians."

Connected health the next wave

Meaningful use initiatives that require collecting and reporting data will drive analytics, as well as mobile monitoring tools, both inside the hospital and at home with patients. That's according to a related IDC report on connected health, "U.S. Connected HealthIT 2011 Top10 Predictions: The Evolving IT Landscape for Payers and Providers." Stage 3 of meaningful use rules, as presently drafted, requires the integration of medical device data into electronic health records (EHR) systems.

With each monitoring device able to record potentially thousands of readings -- and discrete data points -- and with smartphone applications with which, for example, a diabetes patient can take regular blood glucose readings and send them to nurses, health care providers will turn to the cloud at last for data storage, IDC said. The statement comes amid reservations about cloud computing expressed by some health care IT leaders as recently as last month.

Getting EHR systems and mobile devices talking to each other will be an interoperability nightmare, according to the IDC report. Once these systems are up and running, however, and plugged into new cloud-based Internet and broadband-connected health services, they will be a boon to patients in underserved urban and rural areas.

That's just one aspect of connected health that will expand greatly. Adults older than 50 -- who need more care in general than their younger counterparts -- are the fastest-expanding group of participants in social media, the authors said. That also will drive communities to create resources that promote physical wellness and provide mental health support for seniors.

ICD-10, HIE, HIPAA top AHIMA list of health IT trends

Connected health is but one of many health IT trends that will drive purchasing priorities in the year ahead. Providers also will be pouring resources into coding software as they prepare to switch from the present International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) code set to the 10th revision, ICD-10 by Oct. 1, 2013.

Having all this digitized information certainly provides a role for the deployment of clinical analytics, clinical decision support and relevant clinical alerts.

Lynne Dunbrack, program director for connected health IT, IDC Health Insights

Providers will need training as well. The final rule mandating the switchover requires 50 hours of training for coders, but it will take more, AHIMA estimates in its health IT trends report. Furthermore, background training should begin this year "in order to master the greater level of detail that ICD-10 requires."

Health information managers' main focus will be coding changes, but other data standards and regulations will influence their purchasing -- like their CIO counterparts on the IT side. IT leaders and informaticists managing patient data should pay close attention to the Direct Project testing and governance rulemaking this summer, because it ultimately will be an important health information exchange standard. (The Direct Project previously was called the National Health Information Network, or NHIN.) With the testing, stakeholders will be ironing out matters of privacy, security, patient consent and data quality within the Direct Project standard.

Finally, security testing, upgrades and auditing software are health IT trends that will be on the minds of some providers, specifically those who implemented their EHR systems after Jan. 1, 2009. Final Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security rules, expected this year, will require providers to track medical record disclosures for payment, treatment and operations. On Jan. 1, they had to begin providing an account of all record accesses. Those with older EHR systems have until 2014.

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

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