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What IT initiatives should you be planning? Analysts discuss

Analytics and remote monitoring will be top IT initiatives for many hospitals in the months ahead.

Most hospitals have either finished implementing electronic health record systems to meet the requirements of meaningful use stage 1 or are well on their way toward implementation in advance of the 2014 stage 2 start date. Many in the industry are using this time to think about what the future might hold for their IT initiatives.

At IDC Directions, held in Boston on March 14, Research Director Judy Hanover said most hospitals had to scramble to implement basic IT systems when the meaningful use program first launched. They focused on computerized physician order entry and basic decision support, but hospitals today are looking beyond these simple functions to technology that could help them improve efficiency, standardize care and improve quality.

They've been disappointed with their analytics in the past, so they're looking for ways to prioritize and find the things that get the results more quickly.

Judy Hanover,
research director, IDC

One of the main technologies hospitals will look to implement this year is analytics software. Hanover said the growing troves of data hospitals that are storing electronically, combined with the transition toward pay-for-performance models, will drive providers to adopt analytics systems. At the same time, some providers who have already dipped their toes into the analytics pool were disappointed with the results. Therefore, those who adopt the technology this year will be looking for value.

"They know that they need to get a better handle on their operations and costs to meet new levels of reimbursements," Hanover said. "They've been disappointed with their analytics in the past, so they're looking for ways to prioritize and find the things that get the results more quickly."

Hanover feels one overlooked area that will increase in prominence this year is revenue cycle analytics. She said almost all of the hospitals she has spoken to recently plan to replace their revenue cycle management systems this year, and many are looking to incorporate analytics.

Analytics software that supports care quality improvement has received a lot of attention in past months, but Hanover said the revenue side is better positioned to take advantage of this technology than the clinical side. Electronic health record (EHR) data at many organizations is often not as complete as it will need to be to apply meaningful analytics, but Hanover said administrative records tend to be more complete. Applying analytics to this area of the business could allow hospitals to review reimbursements from various payers and flatten out any variations, as well as understand factors that may impact their bond rating -- two elements that can impact a hospital's bottom line. Revenue cycle analytics can also be used to look for operational inefficiencies.

Changing payment models may also drive growing adoption of online service, mobile medical applications and social health service, but Program Director Lynne Dunbrack said organizations are going to have to be very thoughtful about how they deploy these technologies. The device is just the "tip of the iceberg," she said.

For example, providers will need to develop data management strategies and think about how to provide technical support before supplying patients with remote monitoring tools. They will also need to develop new workflows to make sure this data is being used wisely in the delivery care and vet the efficacy of the mobile applications they recommend to patients. While mobile health and remote monitoring tools offer significant promise, there is a lot of work organizations need to do on the back end to ensure they actually deliver, Dunbrack said.

"We're really seeing a convergence of those technologies, but how do you implement them?" she said.

A lot of this is contingent on national health policy. Dunbrack said the Affordable Care Act is one of the main drivers behind the move toward accountable care, but the law still faces an uncertain future, despite being affirmed by the Supreme Court and the re-election of President Barack Obama. There are ongoing efforts in Congress to repeal part or all of the law.

Additionally, the FDA is still weighing its options for regulating mobile medical applications. These two factors could temper enthusiasm for technologies connected to accountable care, like remote monitoring, mobile apps and patient engagement tools.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer, or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.

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