8 Health Tech Challenges and Opportunities in 2017

December 12, 2016

Practices need to focus their tech brain trust on potential developments in security compliance, mobile and more, in the coming year.

As we approach the end of 2016, it is important to prepare for technology challenges your practice may face and opportunities you may want to capitalize on in the new year.

Here are eight developments in healthcare technology to know about for 2017:

1. Security and compliance. While we do not know how the new presidency will affect federal healthcare regulations, one can safely assume that security and compliance will remain an area of focus. This past March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched its second phase of HIPAA audits of covered entities and their business associates. In October, OCR released new guidance on HIPAA and cloud computing. These and other recent developments indicate security and compliance are under close scrutiny. Practices should take compliance seriously.

They should also take the threat of cybercrime seriously. Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting healthcare providers because of the black market value of medical records and use of outdated security measures. Symantec's "2016 Internet Security Threat Report" noted that the largest number of data breaches in 2015 took place within health services, comprising 39 percent of all breaches last year. Ransomware - when cybercriminals use encryption to hold companies’ and individuals’ data hostage - increased 35 percent percent in 2015. There is no reason to believe cybercriminals will stop targeting providers.

2. Informatics. Informatics has been a buzzword for quite some time. What are its benefits informatics? While it's a few years old, the University of Illinois at Chicago spells this out in a detailed infographic. Key takeaways include dramatic reductions in malpractice claims after introducing EHRs, faster lab results when using EHRs, potential for significant cost savings, and improved quality of care.

Along with informatics, analytics remains in the spotlight thanks to its potential to deliver significant improvements in all aspects of a practice's operations by converting big data into actionable insights. Practices can expect to see more informatics and analytics solutions hit the market in 2017. It will be important to conduct due diligence before investing in an informatics and/or analytics solution.

3. mHealth. Mobile health (mHealth) is showing no signs of slowing down. A Pricewater Cooper Health Research Institute (PwC) survey revealed some insightful statistics about the use of mobile devices, including the following:

• Sixteen percent of consumers used at least one medical, healthcare or fitness app in 2013. That number doubled to 32 percent in 2015.

• 60 percent of consumers are willing to have a video visit with a physician through a mobile device (more on this later)

• 81 percent of clinicians say mobile access to medical information helps coordinate patient care

• 38 percent of clinicians use email to stay connected with their chronic disease patients.

It will not be surprising if all of these figures increase in 2016. Practices will want to examine how they can use mHealth to boost patient engagement and satisfaction to improve care delivery and help achieve a competitive edge over slower adopting providers.

4. Telemedicine. How do you grow patient volume without increasing foot traffic to your practice? Telemedicine. It's already on the radar of many providers, with the PwC survey indicating that 58 percent of clinicians would rather provide a portion of care virtually. Insurance companies are getting on board with covering telemedicine, and an increasing number of states have laws concerning its coverage. As previously stated, a growing number of consumers are willing to consider video visits with a physicians. It's up to practices to meet these consumers in the middle.

5. Remote monitoring. Already, there are technologies used by patients that capture vital signs, blood pressure, heart rate and more that then transmit the data to healthcare facilities. Practices can expect the number and types of these devices to grow in 2017, and patients to become more accepting of them, especially as an alternative to physically visiting a practice.

6. Interoperability. For the past few years, there has been an effort on behalf of government agencies to move toward increased interoperability of health IT systems.

Congress' recent passing of the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures) shows the government's intention to make interoperability a high priority in the coming years. As the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce noted, "The development of new drugs and devices is meaningless unless they are delivered to the right patients at the right time. Cures will help improve delivery by: ensuring electronic health record systems are interoperable for seamless patient care and help fully realize the benefits of a learning health care system."

7. Integrated systems. A contributor to Apple's success is the tendency for users of Apple products to own multiple Apple products. One reason for this brand loyalty is that Apple products are integrated systems.

It is for this reason that practices can expect a greater push for integrated systems in the market in areas such as access control, video surveillance and audio/visual equipment. When these devices are integrated, implementation, management, upgrades, data retrieval and training is easier.

With a growing emphasis in healthcare on streamlining operations, technology companies are working to meet this objective and secure more of an organization's business at the same time.

8. Cloud technology. No discussion about technology trends of the past several years and likely the next several years would be complete without at least mentioning the cloud. As practices and other healthcare providers implement a greater number of robust systems, the need for convenient, secure data access and retrieval will grow.

Practices should expect technology vendors to encourage greater use of cloud computing. It is important to remember that if a practice shifts any of its data storage to the cloud, use of the service must comply with HIPAA.