In 2016, the course of health IT followed a now familiar path. Already important technologies became even more critical pieces of the healthcare infrastructure, and change continued to be the norm. Providers at all levels now rely on IT and applications as integral components of care delivery, the patient experience and business strategy. In this guest post, Karin Ratchinsky, director of healthcare vertical strategy at a global communications provider, identifies health IT trends that’ll benefit patients and providers in 2017 and beyond.
Embracing bimodal or hybrid IT strategy was an emerging theme in health IT in 2016. Technology that was once largely leveraged on the patient care side of the equation now has great capability to impact the operational side. With evolving requirements and the need for healthcare organizations to adapt more seamlessly, agility and flexibility are ever more critical characteristics of IT architecture.
Cloud architectures continue to expand as enabling platforms within healthcare, leading to an estimated $114 billion spent on cloud services in 2016 alone – a figure that will expand to $216 billion by 2020 and will grow as the demands of a hybrid IT strategy increase. This move to the cloud signals another major shift facing organizations: a move from capital expenditure to operational expenditure.
Along with reliance on the cloud and the move to hybrid infrastructures, the following health IT trends will benefit both patients and providers and will become more pervasive in the years ahead.
1. Technology will empower business strategies & improve patient experience.
Health IT permeates numerous aspects of patient care and providers’ strategies. Because nine out of 10 patients want to use technology if it improves their experiences and because technology is consistently seen as a vehicle for achieving efficiencies and improved outcomes, more leaders are demanding a seat at the table in deciding on IT road maps and investments.
To leverage the value of health IT while ensuring collaboration and prioritization buy-in, C-suite executives are becoming more involved in the process. Moving forward, IT will be increasingly thought of as foundational, from a cross-functional perspective, to the operation of a provider organization.
With more stakeholders, more departments relying on IT-specific infrastructural requirements, and heightened security considerations, building consensus is essential. Creating cross-functional teams and goals will help diverse, potentially disconnected groups focus on milestones and prioritize their efforts by impact to patient care and experience, profitability, and competitive excellence while minimizing the propensity for shadow IT.
2. New technology will result in greater cost reduction.
The broad shift in healthcare compensation from volume to value has thrown revenue streams into turmoil, a problem compounded by uncertainties surrounding the new administration. To accelerate cost-cutting measures in a time of disruption, providers will continue to turn to unified communication and collaboration solutions, as well as cloud-based services.
Such technologies empower providers to adopt enterprise-wide measures for maximizing efficiencies, promoting workforce mobility and boosting productivity. Cloud and UCC solutions are also uniquely able to serve the increasing demand for mobile tools for at-home care and remote workers.
The average cost of cloud computing dropped by two-thirds since 2014, so even minor investments in this area can deliver returns. However, providers must articulate cost-reduction objectives and clearly align those with the overarching goals of technology adoption: to ensure they work in concert and to clarify expectations from program launch. Furthermore, leaders can engage with peers who have experienced similar technology transitions to learn from their best practices.
3. Organizations will emphasize a culture of security through education.
It was once thought adequate to focus only on complying with privacy regulations, but now there is a very real risk that cybersecurity threats could disable critical-care equipment, systems and data. If a network goes down and an ICU loses monitoring capabilities or access to electronic health records, lives are put at real risk.
Studies suggest healthcare providers spend 3% to 6% of their IT budgets on security, compared with other sectors outlaying more than 10%. Given increased threats facing healthcare organizations, spending is expected to increase over the next few years, but investments in enabling security must be paired with a shift in organizational culture – especially because healthcare is so labor-intensive and protected health information can touch the hands of literally hundreds of healthcare workers within a system.
Conducting internal phishing attacks – in which the IT department sends test URLs and viruses to see whether employees click on them – can flag problematic users and behaviors. This reduces the risk of internal threats cost-effectively, keeps security top of mind, and helps organizations gauge how savvy their workforces are when it comes to security.
Opportunities will outweigh the challenges in 2017, but first providers need to acknowledge how indispensable health IT is to meeting the goals of the overall business and care delivery strategy. Whether the year is marked by successes or setbacks, hurdles or sprints, will depend in large part on the execution and empowerment of an effective, collaborative and secure IT strategy.
Karin Ratchinsky is the director of healthcare vertical strategy at Level 3 Communications, a global communications provider.