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Healthcare trends and EHR incentives yet to fix what ails industry

Physician EHR incentives for using health IT paved the way for new healthcare trends aimed at improving health and lowering costs.

This is the first half of a two-part story on current healthcare trends and how their development will affect the future of health IT. Here, the results of physician incentive payments and the role cloud plays in patient care are analyzed. In part two, the obstacles standing in the way of interoperable healthcare systems and analytics initiatives are explored.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act introduced EHR incentives for eligible physicians and hospitals. This has caused a significant increase in health IT investment, yet it hasn't solved all of healthcare's problems. Now that a large number of physicians are using electronic records, many questions remain unanswered around how to improve the population's health and reduce healthcare costs.

There is no quick fix. Healthcare continues to change, though we have seen a tremendous value from the overall adoption of EHRs. The bad news is, the industry is still seeking fixes that allow all physicians to work together regardless of platform and deliver care with fewer technological obstacles in their way. The good news is, there are some emerging healthcare trends that help physicians and patients become more connected and help electronic systems efficiently exchange information. The U.S. healthcare system's burgeoning investment in health IT is also creating easier ways to analyze the wealth of information available within healthcare facilities.

There are several ways the market is addressing these critical issues. Slowly but surely, progress is being made. Some large organizations, such as Microsoft, have been able to transform themselves quickly by allowing for innovation and transformation while getting tangible results. Healthcare organizations should look to these organizations' success if they want their bets to start paying off as well.

Social enterprise

The lack of a common or interoperable platform is an area many healthcare providers face as a significant challenge for care collaboration. This can create an assortment of different issues. Some suffer from a lack of HIE capabilities, while others refuse to operate on two different systems. There are top-down initiatives and incentives in place that encourage providers to make their systems interoperable. If providers do this, it will likely drive more vendors to continue to make ACO systems work better for physicians.

Microsoft has been able to leverage a strong base of its clients who use its integrated platforms, such as SharePoint and Windows. SharePoint allows for document collaboration and sharing of content and information. Microsoft continues to add social features to it in response to the market hinging on the interactive and fluid nature of social media. Now many of Microsoft's users are able to interact with others in their enterprise and their social media "friends" from the same application.

The lesson here is that while information can live within individual silos, physicians must have a platform that encourages better collaboration and ease of use. When that happens and we break down the barriers holding data hostage, more care teams will be able to reach across previously uncrossed lines and work with other physicians when caring for their patients.

Cloud explosion

The cloud may no longer be at the forefront of healthcare trends, but the reality is that it continues to grow. Some EHR vendors still don't see the benefits cloud can offer their clients in reducing the demanding infrastructure that they require. The root issue preventing providers from using cloud services is the sizable up-front costs of EHR implementations.

While cloud is not always the right solution for everyone, a long-term strategy must acknowledge the fact that it is here to stay. Microsoft's approach to the cloud has been part of an amazing transformation. Its cloud services continue to expand, and many of the products that ran only on-premises are now being offered via the cloud. This covers products such as Lync, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Project Online. For many that are adopting customer relationship management, Microsoft's Power BI and other office tools, the cloud version is all they know.

Microsoft addresses the needs of its user base because it recognizes that they are in a highly competitive marketplace. The message they are conveying to their customers is, "My cloud better have everything that you need so you can stay in it." For healthcare, the idea is that there is a much bigger need for more cloud-based vendors. More true cloud providers could be used for EHRs, hospital information systems, laboratory information systems and medical imaging systems, among other products that are being used by healthcare providers.

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 or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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