They've forged a strong foundation, but technologists and health professionals have more to do to fulfill the vision of a cost-effective, consumer-oriented, patient-engaged industry.
"Future systems will support clinicians and patients as they work together toward wellness," said Joe Frassica, chief medical informatics officer and chief technology officer/vice president for Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions at Philips Healthcare. "These systems will provide increasingly personalized and real-time insights and advice for clinicians and patients and will come to be trusted partners in the care of patients."
Healthcare organizations cannot afford to wait, executives said. Laggards will suffer, unable to catch up to the ever-increasing pace of innovation.
"We are going to see the most significant changes in healthcare in the next five years that will be greater than what we've seen in the previous 50," Todd Pierce, senior vice president of healthcare and life sciences at Salesforce.com, told InformationWeek.
[Want to learn how doctors are using data to improve patient outcomes? See Healthcare & Data: Partners At Last.]
Let's take a look at some areas where health IT will undergo dramatic advances in the coming years.
1. Mobile health apps
Though Apple's Watch, slated for delivery in 2015, has the spotlight for now, experts expect a slew of other Internet of Things devices to attract interest from patients, clinicians, and insurers.
Apps will simplify how consumers and clinicians track diet, sleep, and exercise, as part of the initiative to promote wellness rather than responding to illness. "Consumers will play a larger role in understanding and managing their health, with the help of apps that will become easier and easier to use," said Markus Fromherz, chief innovation officer for healthcare at Xerox. "The key will be personalization based on real-time behavior observation, not just traditional population health analytics."
Healthcare organizations will face mounting pressure to grant clinicians access to analytics tools and big data while being asked to protect patient data. Government or industry mandates could strictly rule whether and how nonhealth and health information are merged as privacy advocates become more vocal about the blurring privacy lines.
Instead of focusing primarily on compliance, security will shift toward risk management as healthcare organizations' security infrastructures -- technological, personnel, and management -- mature.
4. Back office
Providers will turn CIOs loose on internal operations, seeking new productivity and cost gains via IoT, cloud, automation, and other technological tools. The goal will be standardization, said Brent Lang, president and CEO of Vocera. "The old saying 'When you have seen one hospital, you have seen one hospital' has to change, and we must move to a model of reliable, predictable, and repeatable results."
Expect many of the bureaucratic holdups to disappear as the entire healthcare ecosystem -- consumers, payers, and providers -- recognizes the many benefits telehealth delivers. Widespread access to low-cost cellular or high-speed Internet connections give most patients a way to connect with specialists and allow hospitals to save costs and improve patient outcomes, generating more rapid development of these programs around the nation.
[For more on healthcare IT over the last quarter century, see 25 Years Of Health IT: Highs & Lows.]
Technologies such as 3D printing, analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine-to-machine learning will propel advances in medicine, executives said. "Imagine a day when disease outbreaks can be thwarted before they have a chance to spread; when IT-enabled tools are available that assist clinicians in making more informed life-saving decisions; when healthcare becomes truly personal and predictive by harnessing the power of a person's genome," said Erik Giesa, senior vice president of marketing and business development at ExtraHop Networks. "IT will play a key role in all these exciting advances, and I, for one, am very excited to watch their development."
Today the interoperability conversation focuses on electronic health records. Future conversations will expand to incorporate the gamut of applications and devices used across healthcare systems to ensure they can capture and share all patients' data, no matter where consumers are treated. "I see interoperability across all kinds of technologies as a priority for 2015," said Terry Edwards, founder, president, and CEO of PerfectServe. "This is not something that will happen with the snap of a finger, but I predict more and more healthcare organizations and vendors will strive toward interoperability of solutions and data, helping move the industry toward more effective and efficient models of managing patient care across entire populations."
8. Value, not fees
In their continued shift to value-based pay, providers must add technologies that empower population health and patient engagement, and meet the evolving government mandates such as increasing levels of Meaningful Use, ICD-10, and HIPAA. They might, for example, invest in tools that reduce wait times, automate checkins, improve communications, and analyze high-risk populations. "To manage their revenue cycle, providers will need to manage patient outcomes, clinical quality, and cost/utilization -- and they'll need to manage them all together," Doug Fielding, vice president of product strategy at ZirMed, told InformationWeek. "Value-based care will be the new reality. The transition will be slower than some folks would like or that some experts are predicting."
9. IT departments
IT is likely to partner with specialists such as cloud service providers and HIPAA compiance firms, allowing internal staff to focus on how to integrate technologies into each workflow and department, or how to monetize certain services such as app development or imaging. This environment "is making health IT workers learn more about the clinical side of healthcare operations, instead of just a provider of what I call raw technology services," said Bob Zemke, director of healthcare solutions at Extreme Networks.
How is your organization preparing for the next 25 years in healthcare? Let us know in the comments.
The owners of electronic health records aren't necessarily the patients. How much control should they have? Get the new Who Owns Patient Data? issue of InformationWeek Healthcare today.