5 Healthcare Technology Trends To Watch

Healthcare is changing rapidly and technology is at the forefront of that change. The healthcare industry in the United States is in the midst of significant change as the current model is not sustainable long-term. There are several “market disruptors” that have received media attention as of late. As you look at each of these offerings and solutions they all have one thing in common - technology is the vehicle enabling the change.

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), healthcare is now a $3.3 trillion dollar industry and accounts for almost 18% of the total GDP of the United States. This number continues to rise and shows no signs of slowing down. All of that money is attracting several new players into the healthcare space and along with that new technologies. 

All of this change is bringing some exciting new solutions to healthcare as well as some new challenges that have never been seen before. Below is a list of the 5 healthcare technology trends that will continue to shape the industry over the next few years. These 5 were chosen due to the fact they are starting to influence healthcare today. There are several other technologies that are on the horizon, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, that have the potential to make a significant impact as well. For now, it feels a little like they are a solution looking for a problem. That may change in the near future depending on how these technologies mature and what financial support and backing they receive.

Here are the 5 technology trends that are certain to drive change in healthcare over the next few years:

1. Cloud Computing

This may seem like an “old” item (especially as quickly as technology changes), but this is on the list for several reasons. First off, healthcare was one of the last industries to really adopt cloud technology solutions. Part of this reluctance to move to the cloud were the concerns regarding data ownership and HIPAA data security. Just a few years ago, many of the cloud hosting providers would not sign a business associate agreement (a HIPAA requirement) thereby restricting many healthcare organizations from even using their service. Major business system vendors and cloud hosting providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Infor/Lawson, Kronos, Dropbox, etc. now all provide business associate agreements to their customers and focus on the healthcare segment. While there are still healthcare organizations that are either opposed to, or tepidly “dipping their toe in the waters” of cloud computing, more organizations have begun to move their clinical and business systems to the cloud. From a clinical data and EMR perspective, the private cloud/hosting business continues to grow. This is partly due to the successful cloud hosting offerings from several electronic health record (EHR) vendors and partners. More and more healthcare organizations are moving to a hosted EMR in order to move away from the care and feeding required to maintain a large EMR infrastructure. This trend will continue over the next several years, especially as organizations look to become more agile and mergers and acquisitions continue to accelerate.

2. Consumer Health Technology (Internet of Things)

The consumer health space is a huge segment that has a lot of potential to grow over the next several years. We are just starting to see the tip of the spear as it relates to some of the ways this will change the way healthcare is delivered and managed. An example of one such technology is wearables. Android Wear and Apple Watches are already encouraging individuals to monitor their health using these devices. This data is then collected on their respective phones and can be tracked and even shared with others. Apple is one of several companies looking to capitalize on this growing area. In Tim Cook’s September 2017 keynote he stated “healthcare is big for Apple’s future”. Apple executives have also shared that they are very focused on diabetes and heart disease and partnering with healthcare providers for care coordination of chronic diseases. The industry is also seeing technologies such as the smart pill bottle become more widely adopted by consumers and healthcare providers alike. Many of these smart pill bottles are connected to the internet and can send reminders to patients to take certain pills and/or send messages to caregivers and clinicians when patients are not in compliance. Whether this technology will ultimately be proven to improve medication compliance or not remains to be seen. One thing is for certain and that is the area of consumer-facing health technology is a booming industry that will change the way patients interact with healthcare providers in the future.

3. Telehealth and Virtual Visits

Telehealth and virtual visits are an area garnering a lot of attention right now, and for good reason. A recent survey done by the Advisory Board claims that 67% of individuals between the ages of 18-29 and 73% between 30-49 would consider a virtual visit if a same-day appointment was not available. This information tells us that consumers are open to the idea of virtual visits and that the convenience of a same-day appointment is enough for people to consider taking this route. Telemedicine makes a lot of sense for areas such as dermatology, follow-up clinic appointments, and post-surgical visits. In addition, there are other socio-economic factors that are driving adoption of this technology as well. For example, health care providers are using virtual visits to reach individuals In rural areas where providers are not in close proximity. This allows the provider to better manage the care of a patient who would not be able to travel - either due to distance from the provider or lack of transportation. Many organizations are awaiting changes at the payer and state level before fully embracing virtual visits. Some states allow for reimbursement for virtual visits while others do not. We will see adoption continue to grow, especially as more insurance providers and states allow for reimbursement of these services.

4. Analytics

Most healthcare practices, hospitals, and health systems have chosen and implemented their EHR. This means that they are collecting large amounts of data electronically and trying to decipher what the data is telling them. Organizations are also trying to understand how to obtain value from their (likely) multi-million dollar EHR implementation. This situation is driving companies to invest in analytic platforms and solutions. Analytics are being used to provide better clinical outcomes, optimize the EHR, drive down cost, improve quality, reduce readmission rates, and more. Organizations are putting in data warehouses to act as a large data repository so analytic tools can be run against a full set of data from a single source. It seems like every day there is a new product or solution that provides data warehousing capabilities and performs data analytics. Another growing market for data analytics is the monetization of clinical data. Organizations are de-identifying the data and selling it to pharmaceutical companies, researchers, and insurers. There is a large demand for clinical data and some organizations are starting to explore how to monetize their data. The area of analytics will continue to grow as organizations continue to seek to improve their clinical outcomes and bottom line. The monetization of this data will also make this attractive for many organizations seeking to recoup some of the costs of the their EHR investment.

5. Security

This can fall into the category of “law of unintended consequences”. When it was mandated that healthcare organizations move from paper charting and documentation to electronic, the goal was for the data to be more accessible and help ease sharing between providers and the patient. Unfortunately, the data has also become more accessible to others who have nefarious intentions. The value of this clinical data has made it very appealing for individuals and even government-backed organizations to attempt to steal this data. In 2017 alone, nearly 5.6 million patient records were breached. This trend continues to increase year-after-year with no signs of letting up. If organizations have not focused on information security by now, they are already way behind. Information security will be an area where a lot of money will be spent over the next few years trying to defend against attacks and known vulnerabilities. The market for information security professionals is already very hot and will continue to be in high-demand in the near future. As an FBI agent from the cyber crimes division recently told me, “this is the new normal” when referring the onslaught of attacks to healthcare organizations on a daily basis. 

These 5 areas will continue to fuel the change in healthcare with others on the horizon. One thing is for certain, healthcare is rapidly changing and technology is helping to lead the way.