Top Healthcare Technology Tools and Trends of 2013

Here's a look back on what, technology-wise, made physicians' "hot" lists this year.

One year ago, physician practices were singing the praises of tablets, patient portals, and cloud-based EHRs. Not to be outdone, 2013 also brought in some great technology and tools to medical practices. Here's a look back on what, technology-wise made doctors' "hot" lists this year.

1. Security: Blame it on the passage of the more-stringent HIPAA Omnibus Rule, the growth in healthcare data breaches, or the influx of tablet-wielding physicians who use theirs to log into their EHR - privacy and security took center stage in 2013. And so did the number of products available to physicians that wanted to make sure protected health information (PHI) stayed protected. "The three biggest security technologies this year that created sighs of relief all over the country were privacy monitoring, data-loss prevention, and encryption [tools]," said Mac McMillan, CEO, CynergisTek. "Those healthcare entities that deployed these technologies in their enterprises learned firsthand the power and confidence of proactive security."

2. Meaningful use: It's been a few years since CMS released its EHR Incentive Program, and many physicians are still striving to meet Stage 1 rules for "meaningful use." Some are even preparing for Stage 2, which will require more proof of patient engagement, care coordination, and information exchange. And technology decisions were largely centered around meeting meaningful use incentives, said Rosemarie Nelson, a Medical Group Management Association consultant. "More practices that had not yet adopted an EHR started down the path because of meaningful use," said Nelson. "Practices that have used an EHR for several years started to examine their own implementation to determine if indeed it would be the tool to get them through meaningful us. The portal gained traction because of meaningful use, not because it is a great tool for patients and increases efficiencies in the practice."

3. Patient payment estimation tools: Patients were faced with a greater financial burden in 2013, with larger deductibles and copays, which meant that practices had a tough time collecting payments. The bad news is that paid at your medical practices is only going to get harder, our recent PayerView 2013 data, compiled by athenahealth, revealed. The survey revealed that higher deductibles continue to impact provider collection burden, a measure of how much of the patient's bill must be collected by the practice. That's why tools that help patients determine how much they owe saw increasing interest, especially in the second half of 2013. "Tools like patient responsibility estimators help providers begin the financial discussion with patients early, ultimately increasing patient satisfaction and giving the patient a higher propensity to pay their balance," said Kim Labow, vice president of marketing for ZirMed.

4. Tools to better manage patient health: The past 12 months saw an increased interest tools technology to support higher-quality care. "Our industry continues to emphasize the collection, integration, and analysis of patient data as a means to drive more personalized, impactful care," said ophthalmologist Jonathan Javitt, who is also the CEO and vice chairman of Telcare. Michael Lee, director of clinical informatics for Massachusetts-based Atrius Health said this year practices truly started implementing tools that support population health, managing panels of patients and quality reporting. "There is a lot of technology needed to care for patients on a large scale," said Lee.

5. Mobile health monitoring. Telehealth enjoyed big strides this year, and is now being seen as a cost-effective alternative to in-person care for those who live in rural areas. In tandem, mobile-health monitoring systems and mobile applications, which allow patients to engage in their own care and send data to their physicians, are starting to take off. "Mobile-health monitoring in particular has seen explosive growth thanks to the advancement of cellular-enabled platforms that can offer real-time data sharing," said Javitt.

6. Device integration. "Whether it's integrating mobile devices with an EHR, or EHRs with other in-house systems, such as practice management systems, more practices favored integration over an a la carte approach," said Matt Barron, a product manager of business intelligence, reporting, and mobile for ADP AdvancedMD. "More private physicians were able to integrate their practice management and EHR systems, resulting in improved practice efficiency … Doctors became more comfortable with integrating iPhones and tablets into their private practices to continuously deliver high-quality healthcare to patients."

7. Cloud computing: The past 12 months saw a noticeable decline of in-house servers as smaller practices embraced cloud-based EHRs and other applications. "As more applications move to the cloud, there is less need for physical servers housed on site," said healthcare IT consultant Beverley Caddigan, president of Bevtek Solutions. While Stephen Ober, chief medical officer of Emdeon, practically called 2013 the year of the cloud. "The single biggest trend in 2013 in healthcare IT was cloud computing," said Ober. "While still in its infancy, this technology will lay the groundwork for providers to access information anywhere, anytime, and data of virtually any size. When using cloud computing, the sky is the limit. This year we have seen numerous organizations transfer to this technology."

8. Social media: Physicians are flocking to social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to promote their medical practices. A growing number also launched blogs in the past year to deliver health messages to patients. "There are more and more websites cropping up that allow patients to connect patients to patients and patients to physicians through various portals," noted Ober. "In 2013, more and more physician practices have implemented these technologies to keep a better handle on their patients, their health status with the result of improving overall clinical outcomes."

9. Replacing older or outdated technology: In 2013, a number of hospitals, their physician enterprises, and affiliate practices strongly considered replacing their EHRs. "Vendors are facing a spectrum of challenges, from managing the rollouts of necessary upgrades to receiving disappointing client service scores to meeting ICD-10 and meaningful use compliance," said Thomas Felch, a manager in ECG Management Consultants' healthcare IT practice. "The continued trend of consolidation activity affecting hospitals, health systems, and physician practices has also led to a wave of EHR and practice management system replacement needs." 

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