How far down this path will we be in 12 months? Probably not too far. But we are making progress on five fronts:
Mobile Health. This segment of the industry offers the most promise. It's no exaggeration to describe consumers' and physicians' embrace of mobile health apps, smartphones, and tablets as transformational.
Docs are in love with their iPads, and for good reason. When IT teams were asked "Which mobile computing devices are doctors in your organization using for medical purposes" in InformationWeek Healthcare's 2012 Priorities Survey, 66% cited iPads or other tablets, up from 45% just a year earlier. This love affair continues to develop because tablets give them access to EHR data, drug reference materials, and a host of valuable data that in the past was only available in the office or hospital. That kind of access should improve patient outcomes.
Similarly, consumers are loading all sorts of fitness apps on their phones, while patients with chronic diseases are taking advantage of apps and iPhone attachments that let them measure blood pressure, blood glucose, and much more.
[ Are you ready to take on another tough job? Read Health IT's Next Big Challenge: Comparative Effectiveness Research. ]
Roughly half of consumers predict that within the next three years mobile health will improve the convenience (46%), cost (52%), and quality (48%) of their healthcare, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey of consumers, payers, and physicians in both developed and emerging markets around the world.
Whether or not this enthusiasm translates into better health and less need for medical services will depend in part on the "stickiness" of these apps. Unfortunately many consumers fall out of love with their mobile health apps after only a few uses.
Personal health records. Speaking of stickiness, PHRs seem to have none. Until recently few consumers have signed on for standalone PHRs, and I've devoted a fair amount of digital ink to reasons why that's the case. But that will likely change in the next year or so--at least for those consumers who have the most skin in the game, namely patients with chronic, life-threatening disorders.
I suspect so-called "interactive PHRs" will catch on in 2013. These digital tools link personal health records to electronic health records.
It seems Microsoft is placing its bets on this PHR/EHR marriage as well. The company has launched a pilot program with Greenway Medical Technologies that will add clinical data from PrimeSuite, Greenway's electronic health record, to Microsoft's HealthVault platform. The joint effort will let patients create a HealthVault account and access their clinical information from PrimeSuite's PrimePatient online portal, including demographics, allergies, medications, vital signs, social and family history, procedures, labs tests, and patient care plans.
Finally Sentara Healthcare, a large healthcare system with locations across Virginia, has struck a deal with MDLIVE, a Sunrise, Fla.-based firm, to provide physicians with telephone and online video consults with patients in Virginia and to serve as a referral network for patients who need to be seen in person.
EHR vendor shakeout. Healthcare providers have more than 600 certified EHR systems to choose from if they want to qualify for Meaningful Use financial incentives. It's likely many of these vendors won't survive 2013 for several reasons. Some smaller companies have jumped into the market too quickly, hoping to get a quick return on their investment without making much of an investment to begin with.
At a recent InformationWeek Healthcare Virtual Event, Mark Wagner, senior research director at KLAS, explained that EHR vendors are so busy selling systems that they barely have time to support the ones they've installed, much less create a platform that meets all of a provider's needs. That kind of over commitment is sure to build resentment and a bad reputation among hospitals and practices with little or no internal IT support staff. The resulting winnowing process may put some EHR vendors out of business, but the surviving companies will likely offer services that ultimately improve patient care.
[ Technology can't solve all problems. Read When Medical Informatics Clashes With Medical Culture. ]
Clinical Analytics Most EHR systems fall short when it comes to heavy duty analytics. Many can generate simple reports but that's just not enough to meet the demands placed upon providers to meet various government mandates on interoperability and clinical performance. And providers are starting to see that EHRs by themselves have limited potential.
"In the clinical space, there was a belief that if you put in an EHR, all your problems of interoperability would go away," according to John Edwards, a director at PwC, commenting on one of their recent surveys. "There is evidence in the survey that providers were realizing that the 'silver bullet' of EHRs needed to be enhanced with clinical informatics people."
Close to half of providers expect to add technical analysts in the next two years, while 35% will hire additional clinical informaticists, according to the survey. Some 70% of insurance companies will boost staffing on the technical side of clinical analytics and 30% will add informaticists.
Similarly a recent report from Frost and Sullivan says hospitals will soon see a significant increase in the use of analytics tools. Their latest figures show that while only 10% of U.S. hospitals implemented health data analytics tools in 2011, that number will grow to approximately 50% adoption in 2016.
It's unlikely the healthcare industry is going out of business any time soon, no matter how effective it becomes at delivering patient care. But by the same token, developments in all five IT hot spots suggest we're moving in the right direction.