The digitization of healthcare records across the nation over the past several years has created an electronic backbone for patient data that is in the early stages of getting unlocked for value. However, as we have seen in the past couple of years, technology-led change is slow to take hold in healthcare, and the policy uncertainty of the previous year has meant that healthcare enterprises have been cautious with technology investments.
In my latest book “The Big Unlock,” I discuss the competitive forces within the healthcare technology provider landscape, which I have classified into four major categories: The custodians are the dominant electronic health record (EHR) vendors who have the data and the workflow. The enablers have built platforms that they hope will be used by the enterprises as well as other technology providers to develop new digital health experiences. The arbitrageurs are solutions and services firms that rely on global labor pools, and increased automation, to deliver technology-enabled services at lower costs. The innovators are developing new ways to provide healthcare experiences, and are often venture capital funded startups.
These categories are not watertight compartments, but indicate a dominant business model for a particular type of solution provider. Vendors in each of these groups face challenges related to organic growth within their space and competitive pressures from other incumbents as well as new entrants. In response, technology providers in a specific category are also trying to expand into different categories, examples being EHR vendors who are building out advanced analytics and digital capabilities. All incumbents face threats from emerging non-traditional sources of competition: Amazon, with its blockbuster Amazon Web Services (AWS) business, is reportedly considering an entry into the pharmaceuticals distribution space, while Apple is getting deeper into digital health space, leveraging its vast consumer base of iPhone and Apple Watch users. Large healthcare enterprises, such as UPMC and Quest Diagnostics, are getting into the technology solutions space, either by leveraging proprietary data or by investing in startups through innovation programs. Health plan major Cigna’s recent acquisition of digital health firm Brighter is an example of the lines blurring between technology providers and enterprises.
Gartner has estimated that some 6.4 billion connected things will be in use by the end of 2016, with some 5.5 million new things getting connected every day. There’s been a clear boom in health and fitness wearables, with healthcare consumers investing in tracking devices – sometimes with their employer’s encouragement – and the MedTech industry has jumped on this in a big way.
Fascinating IoT applications are being developed today, often through unlikely partnerships. For example, medical devices company Medtronic is developing an application that transmits wearables data to the IBM Watson cognitive computing and predictive analytics platform. And Swiss pharma company Novartis is joining hands with Qualcomm to develop an internet-connected inhaler that can send information to a cloud-based big data analytics platform for healthcare providers to use in treating patients. These are exciting examples of how technology and analytics can support personalized medicine.
However, there are a couple of big issues that the IoT movement has to contend with when it comes to the Medical Internet of Things (IoT). These issues concern us as consumers, and they also concern our employers and our healthcare providers equally.
Data security: The medtech industry is widely seen as unprepared for the security risk and vulnerability to hacking that their devices can cause for the rest of the healthcare system. This has immediate repercussions for consumers who may be unaware of the exposure of their personal medical information to cybercriminals. In addition, as healthcare providers start using medical information from these interconnected devices in a cloud-based environment, their enterprise IT, specifically electronic health record (EHR) systems, could be seriously compromised and vulnerable to hackers. And this brings us to the other, emerging issue that is beginning to get some attention in the exchange of IoT data.
Privacy and legal concerns: While there are undisputable benefits for healthcare consumers as physicians gain access to medical information from a range of connected devices, there is a real threat to privacy as well. We start with the question of who owns the data. State law in the U.S varies when it comes to this question, and device makers and other software providers may lay claim to the data which can be used against consumers. At the same time, collecting personal data through devices imposes a set of legal requirements on enterprises, starting with proper disclosures about the collection and use of the information.
After years of underinvestment, CIO’s in healthcare may have something to cheer about this year. The biggest trend seems to be the increased focus and investment in IT in healthcare enterprises. With more than $30 billion invested in electronic health record (EHR) systems, and meaningful use (MU) requirements out of the way, we are seeing enterprises turn toward the more strategic aspects of IT in the ongoing transformation of the healthcare sector.
These investments, however, will follow the money. In other words, funding will focus on initiatives that have the biggest impact in terms of revenues, cost avoidance, and transformative potential. A recent survey by technology provider Healthedge suggests that investments among payers will be targeted at selective enhancements to the most critical systems that support business development, and not a wholesale upgrade of IT. Here are a few of the top investment areas across healthcare:
Population Health Management (PHM): Everybody is on board with the concept of PHM as the defining principle in an outcomes-based business model. However, PHM has eluded a consistent definition, other than that its desired impact is to reduce overall costs of patient populations, and improve clinical outcomes. Analytics has been an important aspect of this discussion, however standalone analytics solutions have struggled to demonstrate value, and progress on advanced analytics involving predictive models and cognitive sciences has been slow. This year may change all of that. Many standalone analytics companies are likely to be acquired, and IBM Watson will gain more traction. M & A in healthcare will drive PHM as well.
Information Security: With healthcare data breaches at over 112 million in 2015, including high-profile breaches at Anthem, Premera, and Excellus, IT security is now a CEO level issue. There is no doubt what this means – investments in data security technologies are going to increase. However, there is no guarantee that data breaches will not increase.
Healthcare Consumerism: Changing demographics and unexpected increases in the costs of health insurance are driving the consumerization of healthcare today. Silicon Valley startups, flush with VC money, are coming up with direct-to-consumer approaches that are making traditional healthcare firms sit up and take notice. At the same time, the newly awakened healthcare consumer is also demanding information and price transparency. New York Presbyterian has launched a patient-first marketing strategy aimed at improving engagement with patients through information sharing, and is revamping its website completely. BCBS of NC has already released the cat among the pigeons by publishing price data (and is facing pushback from its provider network). IT investments will now be focused on maximizing the reach and value of the information to empower consumers to make the right choices.