5 Trends Will Reshape Home Healthcare IT In 2013

Look for growth in mobile health, telemedicine, clinical analytics, and personal health records—and an EHR vendor shakeout.

Ultimately the goal of all healthcare–IT included–is to put itself out of business. That may sound a bit strange but medicine’s primary objective is to cure disease, or prevent it from occurring in the first place. And as the profession gets better at these two tasks, the public should become increasingly self-sufficient and have less and less need for its services.

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 netbooks and 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.

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.  Development of online patient portals, including demographics, allergies, medications, vital signs, social and family history, procedures, labs tests, and patient care plans will expand.

Telemedicine. Several large healthcare systems have established relationships with telemed companies. American Well, for instance, recently teamed up with Tampa-based University of Southern Florida Health to provide telehealth services to residents of The Villages, a large retirement community northwest of Orlando. The company has also partnered with Allscripts to integrate telehealth functionality into patients’ EHRs. The system is being piloted at USF Health, and the EHR vendor plans to expand it to selected customers nationwide in January, 2013.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This article will also appear on the HIMSS website on September 10 as part of their celebration of National Health IT Week. 

From Paul Cerrato, Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare Read the article here

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