As 2017 begins, healthcare is once again looking ahead to the latest and greatest that the year will bring in terms of information technology. With IT becoming an increasingly important part of the field in terms of both direct and indirect patient care, the dollars of healthcare organizations are expected to be invested in strategies that will increase value-based care while improving patient outcomes.
In 2017 and the years that follow, many experts are predicting that healthcare will specifically be influenced by several forms of developing technology that are already proving influential in the field, including mobile health applications, big data tools, telehealth advancements and cybersecurity strategies.
Mobile health apps present both benefits and risks
Today, mobile devices are used for tasks as diverse as tracking fitness activities, purchasing movie tickets and building professional networks. And not only can people do more things with their phones than ever before, but they are also keeping them increasingly close at hand. According to a 2015 report by Pew Research Center, 92 percent of American adults own a cellphone of some kind, with 67 percent of the population owning a smartphone. Of those who owned a cellphone, 90 percent said that they “frequently” carry their device on them and only 3 percent reported that they “rarely” carry it. The vast majority of cellphone users also keep their phone turned on most of the time. A mere 7 percent said that they “frequently” turn off their phone.
While some may lament that the constant use of mobile apps at all hours of the day is causing Americans to check out of their daily lives, health professionals see an opportunity. This tech can track a user’s eating and exercise habits, blood pressure and more, which allows healthcare providers to follow patients’ health remotely. It also enables researchers to collect large amounts of data for health-related studies on topics such as diabetes and mental health.
According to The Economist, as of March 2016, there were about 165,000 health-related apps in existence that run on either Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. The professional services firm PwC additionally reported that an estimated 1.7 billion people will download health apps in 2017.
With the increased production and use of health apps, 2017 will also likely continue efforts to provide some level of oversight to ensure that users remain safe. Apple, for example, released new store review guidelines in April 2016 that included a section on apps related to health, fitness and medical data. When it comes to health research that uses mobile data, Apple was clear that the apps may not release the information to third parties without permission, cannot write inaccurate or false data and must obtain consent when using human subjects in research.
Big data shapes decision-making
Data is being collected at increasingly high rates. In 2013, the research company SINTEF found that 90 percent of the world’s data had been collected in the last two years alone. According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day, which includes numbers, images, videos, signals and more.
Healthcare is no exception to this trend. And not only is more data being collected in the field, but it is also being stored more efficiently. Electronic health records allow information to be stored in a single, secure location for each individual patient, giving providers a clearer picture about not only that person’s health, but overarching trends in all the patients that their organization treats and the processes and resources that the groups use.
A major way that healthcare data is being collected that will likely continue in 2017 is through the use of personal wearable devices. Similar to mobile health apps, this kind of tech can record the heart rate, blood pressure and other vitals of patients even when they are not directly under the care of a physician or healthcare facility.
As more and more data is collected in the health field, there will continue to be greater demand for professionals and systems who can organize and leverage this information. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for medical records/health information technicians is expected to increase by 15 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding an additional 29,000 jobs to the workforce.
Telehealth brings options to remote communities
With video conferencing systems becoming more reliable – and clear – than ever before, remote health strategies are becoming a more integrated part of modern healthcare. With improvements to video conferencing technology in particular, patients are able to consult with their own primary care physicians and even specialists without leaving their homes. This is a major advantage to not only those who are chronically ill and may have trouble traveling, but patients who live in remote communities that may not otherwise have access to the care that they need.
In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Glenn Hammack, the CEO and president of medical services company NuPhysicia’s, emphasized that this convenience is one of the major selling points that is driving the popularity of telehealth technology.
“Probably the most powerful aspect of telemedicine is improving access and improving the convenience of a lot of elements of healthcare,” Hammack said. “So, whether you’re talking about folks [who] would have a hard time getting to a specialist or whether you’re talking about someone who is in a jam and needs to see a doctor before they go on a business trip, telemedicine clinics are very valuable.”
According to PwC, hospital managers believe that outpatient appointments could be reduced by 35 percent by using Skype for consultations. This not only makes follow-up and other appointments more convenient for patients, but it also reduces the strain and cost put on medical facilities that may otherwise be pushed to their limits.
Cybersecurity needs to keep pace
Though the increasing use of information technology in healthcare brings numerous benefits to patients, it also brings challenges. One of the foremost is the security issues related to storing sensitive patient information online. While the convenience of systems such as EHRs allows for increased communication between health organizations and professionals, it also can leave this data vulnerable to online attacks.
In a survey by Healthcare IT News that asked healthcare organizations what type of technology they plan to update in 2017, security was the top response. Geisinger Health System Associate Chief Information Officer Joe Fisne, in an interview with Healthcare IT News, said the response makes sense.
“From the standpoint of security being No. 1, it certainly is one of the most critical things in healthcare today,” Fisne said. “We are in an age where technology has extended so far into the realm of healthcare that it has become one of the most critical things, so the heightened need for security follows. And analytics is key, as well. We are investing in some of the Big Data platforms to take information and demonstrate trends, practices and patterns of care, as well as patterns of illness along the way. And that goes hand in hand with population health.”
As technology becomes an increasingly integrated part of healthcare, organizations will need to respond appropriately in terms of cybersecurity in 2017 to ensure that the privacy and security of their patients are protected.