Happy 2018 to everyone. This article is about my predictions in Health IT for 2018. This should be an interesting year for healthcare overall and we should see continued strong investments in Health IT. Information Technology provides the tools and processes for the business and clinical settings in healthcare and is imbedded in almost every application used by healthcare workers. While healthcare is a hot topic in our State and Federal agencies, I predict these investments will be included in many Health IT budgets in 2018.

  1. Data/Cyber Security – As I make my rounds in discussions with healthcare IT leaders, this is the one topic that is consistent and is one of the major areas where CIOs are focusing their energy. The worst thing any CIO wants to see is the morning front page of the newspaper with a security or data breach in their organization. This is not just an IT responsibility as many organizations have a specialized group of IT, Legal and Compliance representatives overseeing this area. This is an area where we should see continuing $ being allocated in health IT for 2018.
  2. Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) – most health providers are saturated with a history of EMR implementations accelerated with Meaningful Use incentives. For 2018, we see continued optimization of the EMR systems and focusing on enhancements supporting quality based healthcare delivery and reporting. The major EMR vendors are accelerating their development of quality applications to especially meet requirements for MACRA and MIPS. We should see continued optimization $ for EMRs in 2018.
  3. Mergers and Acquisitions along with Divestures – This area is heating up as hospitals and health systems are striving to capture their market share with acquisition of community hospitals and physician practices. Competition is steep in some markets. Several For Profits health systems are shedding hospitals to try and improve the bottom line for shareholders. Some not for profit large systems are also looking closely at divesting or acquiring to enhance market share and service lines. Linked to these mergers are IT strategies to implement standard EMR systems across the new health system.
  4. Big Data/Analytics – Big data analytics in healthcare is evolving into a promising field for providing insight from very large data sets for improving outcomes while reducing costs. As we have seen with Cancer Moonshot, it’s potential is great; however there remain challenges. McKinsey estimates that big data analytics can enable more than $300billion in savings per year in U.S. healthcare. Clinical operations and R& D are two of the largest areas for potential savings.  Challenges are many and one is the criteria for platform evaluation must include availability, continuity, ease of use, scalability, ability to manipulate at different levels of granularity, privacy and security enablement, and quality assurance. To succeed, big data analytics in healthcare needs to be packaged so it is menu-driven, user-friendly and transparent. Real-time big data analytics is a key requirement in healthcare.
  5. Infrastructure and Cloud Based Solutions – According to a recent Forbes review, the cloud is transforming healthcare by providing on-demand access to IT resources (including applications), without the need to deploy and manage any software or hardware. Providers are looking to the cloud to cut costs and improve the quality of care. Once providers move to the cloud, the traffic that used to flow to the data center now flows to the internet. This change can present major availability and bandwidth challenges due to the limitations of legacy network architectures. There are also concerns around security needed for HIPAA because security is not provided on high-speed, public broadband connections. We are seeing that many providers are looking at hybrid model which uses a mix of on-premise, private and third-party public cloud services. Also, SaaS applications are being adopted at a much faster pace which includes applications like Office 365 and also EMR/EHR systems. Stay tuned in 2018 to see a growth in cloud solutions for healthcare.
  6. Health Information Exchanges –We know that there have been some challenges to basic survival for HIEs. “HIEs are alive and well and we’re moving forward to support our communities,” said Dick Thompson, chairman of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative, which counts 55 HIEs as members. “The exchanges have begun to readily identify value and they are monetizing that value to sustain themselves.” Health information exchanges are poised to become increasingly important as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT focuses even more on interoperability, as is mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and as ONC head Donald Rucker, MD, has publicly said it will. “There will be significant discussion about the role that HIEs play in furthering those goals,” said HIMSS Analytics executive vice president Blain Newton. In some markets, for example in the Philadelphia/NJ area we are seeing Payers and Providers working together to share claims and clinical data. Look for an evolving role for HIEs in 2018.
  7. Blockchain investments – I posted 2 articles in 2017 about Blockchain in healthcare. I see that healthcare professionals are excited about the technology and see it as a way to streamline the sharing of medical records while protecting the data from hackers, and giving patients more control over their information. What is holding the technology back is a lack of technical standards. The healthcare sector expects some federal rules will come in 2018 and the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is also considering it. As a result, it is believed that blockchain potential in healthcare will be substantial in 2018 and beyond.
  8. Telemedicine and Virtual Care -In 2017 I posted 4 articles on telemedicine and telehealth solutions. With the growth in the number of millennials these solutions will continue to grow in 2018. A 2017 CRM survey 60 percent of Millennials showed interest in telemedicine. This could be part of the reason why market research company BCC Research estimates the market for remote monitoring and telemedicine will reach over $27.3 billion which is twice its size since 2011.
  9. Innovation – While these technologies have been circulating in the healthcare space, there are two innovative areas that I believe will see significant traction in 2018. Many health systems are making innovation a key strategy, may not necessarily be led by IT but usually included in IT strategy and expenditures.
    • Artificial Intelligence –2018 is set to be another big year for healthcare organizations as they start to come to terms with emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, the complexities of population health management, the Internet of Things (IoT) says a new report by the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI). Respondents to PwC’s polling seem bullish on the prospect of AI with thirty-nine percent of healthcare executives investing in machine learning and AI already. They see AI as a driver for virtual assistants (31 percent), automated data analytics (29 percent), research reports and information aggregation (26 percent), and decision support (21 percent). We all know that the quicker that healthcare can eliminate human error and inefficiency, the safer and healthier patients will be.
    • The Internet of Things (IoT) – We know that IoT is transforming the healthcare industry. IoT is bringing new applications, tools and workflows that are creating better patient care and outcomes. These solutions are also bringing efficiencies that are reducing healthcare costs. Remote Patient Monitoring (Aug. article) is one example of the use of IoT outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices. By allowing patients to be monitored at home, instead of in a healthcare facility, the true potential is realized for Internet of Things in healthcare…look for growth of IoT this year!
  1. Integrating Health Insurance Plans with Provider Health Systems –I wrote an article in October about this growing trend. As more large health care systems are becoming insurers, insurance upstart Oscar Health joined with Ohio giant, Cleveland Clinic. Oscar Health is an insurer in New York City and with that partnership, Cleveland Clinic will become the latest provider to launch its own health insurance plan. A 2015 McKinsey report found that 13% of all health systems offered their own health insurance plans and covered about 18 million members. UPMC is acquiring hospitals in order to expand its insurance arm.  UPMC now has about 40 hospitals in Pennsylvania and plans for building three new hospitals providing “next-generation treatments in patient-focused, technology-enhanced settings unique to health care.”  UPMC is also unusual in having its own health insurance arm, which has shown major growth, with UPMC Health Plan gaining 200,000 members during the past year, bringing membership to 3.2 million. UPMC now touts itself as having the highest membership in western Pennsylvania, a health insurance market long dominated by Pittsburgh-based Highmark. Look for this trend to continue growing in 2018.