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Pricewaterhouse Coopers Forecasts Top Health IT Trends

Analyst firm predicts that the industry will undergo an extreme strategy makeover in 2011, due to federal mandates, continuing cost pressures, and consumer demands.

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While 2011 promises to be a year of increased health IT spending, a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows that 86% of consumers do not access their medical records electronically and, of the 14% who said they can, 40% to 50% can't access information such as lab tests or physician visit notes.

This may change in 2011 when health organizations undergo a strategy makeover as they react to new rules and payment models, continuing cost pressures, and customer demands, according to the Top Health Industry Issues of 2011, published Monday by PwC's Health Research Institute.

However, the report, based on an online survey of 1,000 adults, found that consumers don't fully understand or buy in to all the changes. As the American healthcare system continues to adopt health IT, which PwC says will accelerate in 2011, the report revealed that less than half of consumers know what a health insurance exchange is; nearly three-fourths would trade employer-sponsored insurance for higher pay; and more than a third believe costs and waiting times will increase as a result of healthcare mergers.

PwC also found that consumers seek health information from media companies more than from government, healthcare companies, and consumer companies combined, and only half of consumers said they would stay within a structure like an accountable care organization (ACO), which manages the continuum of patient care and rewards healthcare providers for effective and efficient care, for all of their care.

"Health organizations are engaged in a lot of activity, but the success of their efforts ultimately depends on the engagement of consumers -- who are at the center of many of the policy goals for health reform," Daniel Garrett, principal of PwC's health information technology (HIT) practice, said in a statement.

While the hope is that consumers will continue to learn more about new models of care in the coming year, IT executives at hospitals and physician offices will be working feverishly to implement electronic health records (EHRs) to meet Stage 1 Meaningful Use criteria, which is a prerequisite to quality for federal stimulus funds in 2011.

Next year health IT executives will also face other tasks that include working with multiple players to establish new population management models like ACOs, using technology to drive down costs in pharma/life sciences companies, and bringing onboard more skilled resourced to coordinate the building of a new technological infrastructure.

"The pressure is on healthcare executives, especially chief information officers, who face new risks, knowing that new care delivery models, payment bonuses, and quality measurements are dependent on their designing an IT structure that can support the information exchange. For providers, the year will go better if they fit together all of the compliance efforts around EHRs, ICD-10 coding preparation, and HIPAA 5010 transactions to improve care and meet patient demands," the report said.

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