As the country’s baby boomer population continues to age, the healthcare industry is gearing up for a whole new level of demand that it has never before gone through. With greater numbers of people requiring doctor visits and hospital care, the industry is looking for ways to be even more productive and efficient to ensure that the quality of healthcare that people are receiving doesn’t suffer.
One of the most exciting advances to hit the health sector is artificial intelligence or AI. This technology is looking to have a huge impact, not just on healthcare in the immediate future but moving forward. Here’s a closer a look at just how it’s changing the course of the industry.
Medical records and data are benefiting from the technology
When it comes to the areas that AI is having the largest impact, medical records and data keeping is a big area to focus on. When you think about the vast amount of information that needs to be collected, stored, and analyzed for each and every patient it can seem rather overwhelming. This is exactly why data management has become such a priority for AI.
Robot technology is now being used to actually collect the information, store it, find specific data when required, and allow for quick and seamless access across the board.
Wearable medical devices
Wearable medical devices are another area where AI is having an impact and bringing about some really exciting and promising products. It’s not just about devices that provide potentially life-saving alerts and information, it’s also devices that can help the wearer better their own personal health by tracking various details. Devices such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit are great examples of this kind of technology that can be useful to everyday people.
Now as for the devices that can actually offer life-saving capabilities and tools, look to options such as the Bay Alarm Medical which is a great medical alert system. While this device isn’t going to track any information or take readings, it can be worn 24/7 and with the push of the button, it connects you to a live operator that can get you the help you need.
Looking back at 2017, we see some of the same significant trends that have been gaining momentum, along with a few newcomers. Together, these top-five trends will impact hospital medicine in 2018 in both traditional and unexpected ways.
Growth Despite Reimbursement Parity Confusion
The telemedicine industry’s growth continues rapidly despite the widespread confusion over reimbursement for telemed services from state to state. Why? Because most hospital leaders understand they face far more significant costs from the lack of proper physician and specialist coverage than they ever would by a less-than-optimal reimbursement rate for telehealth. A teleneurologist consult in the ED might be reimbursed at a lower rate than an in-person visit with an onsite neurologist, but keeping the stroke patient in the hospital could mean a $10,000 DRG reimbursement that the hospital would lose if the patient had to be shipped to a tertiary referral center for treatment. Which is the smarter investment? And more importantly, which scenario better serves the patient?
Expansion into New Types of Inpatient Settings
As micro-hospitals and long-term acute care hospitals (LTACHs) grow, they are looking for single-source providers of solutions, with one point of contact, one operating system, and one set of tools and processes. Telemedicine fits their models very well, helping them avoid contracting with a wide array of specialists to meet their patients’ needs. Micro-hospitals are already established in 19 states, and LTACHs are growing since a federal moratorium prohibiting their expansion expired on Sept. 30, 2017. Being able to access a variety of specialists via telemedicine, depending on the needs of patients on any day, is something these facilities need in order to fulfill their commitment to the communities they serve.
Increasing Use of Telemedicine in Metropolitan Hospitals
Rural hospitals have long been a sweet spot for telemedicine. The physician shortage is certainly more acute in rural areas as community hospitals struggle to recruit physicians, keep beds filled and, in many cases, stay solvent. Recently, however, more metropolitan hospitals have seen the advantage of telemedicine in two key areas. When cross-coverage calls are handled by telemedicine teams, it takes considerable pressure off night hospitalists who may already be overwhelmed with admissions, and yet their phones are ringing constantly with requests to respond to patient issues on the floor.
By the same token, telemedicine offers “surge protection,” providing assistance with patient admissions during ED bottlenecks, and cost-effective relief from hospitalist overload.
Virtual Partners for Solo Specialists
Individual specialists in pulmonology, cardiology, nephrology, and other areas might be on call with a local hospital 24/7/365, with no backup for nights, weekends, holidays, or vacations. Telemedicine specialists share coverage with these physicians—individuals and small practices alike—to help ease the demands on them. For example, a community hospital has a local cardiologist on call 15 days a month, and a telecardiology team on call the other 15 days of the month. This is just one real-life example we’ve seen as hospitals find new ways to meet the challenges of another trend that just keeps growing: physician burnout, coupled with a greater value placed on work-life balance than in generations past.
Healthcare jobs are plentiful, and at least through 2024, the demand for healthcare professionals such as nurses, anesthesiologists and physicians will only continue to rise.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that healthcare jobs are “expected to have the fastest employment growth and to add the most jobs between 2014 and 2024.” Given the healthcare industry’s propensity for increased growth, hospitals need to embrace scalable IT—for their own sake and for the sake of their patients.
Fortunately, there are options.
Healthcare organizations increasingly rely on cloud-based IT solutions, and SADA Systems has reported that the number of organizations living in the cloud could be as high as 89 percent. There’s a reason for the high percentage—cloud solutions are safe, scalable, and efficient.
Hospital data safety is no small concern.
In 2008, 9.4 percent of hospitals used EHRs. By 2014, the percentage had skyrocketed to 96.9 percent. The switch to digital records was necessary, but in the rush to modernize, hospitals were left more vulnerable to data theft than other industries that had migrated more slowly.
According to Niam Yaraghi, healthcare systems are left with an additional concern. “Hospitals cannot tolerate the consequences of computer lockdowns,” writes Yaraghi. “If Wal-Mart gets attacked, it will likely shut down for a short period of time and fix the issue…Hospitals on the other hand, are dealing with patients’ lives.”
Further arguments for cloud IT include the sheer number of patients hospitals see every year. Hospitals treat 136.3 million patients in the emergency room alone, according to cdc.gov, and believe it or not, that number is growing. Cloud IT accommodates growing demand seamlessly.
The healthcare industry remains at a crossroads as providers and healthcare IT professionals confront a rapidly changing business and regulatory landscape. With factors like rising patient cost obligations, growing payer complexity, and the inevitable shift to a value-based payment environment weighing on them, medical practices nationwide are in search of new IT solutions to support them. The rapid pace of cloud adoption across all sectors is a prominent example. The market for cloud solutions is one of the fastest growing areas within healthcare, but it’s not solely a private sector phenomenon; the federal government’s cloud-first strategy finally gained traction in 2015, prompting a FCW analyst to predict accelerating momentum for federal cloud initiatives over the next three to five years.
One of the strongest factors driving cloud momentum among medical practices today remains security concerns: with growing IT complexity increasing security risks, cloud options remain an attractive plug-and-play alternative to on-site servers that allows healthcare providers to minimize vulnerabilities. But modern cloud solutions also allow providers to maximize practice management capabilities and offer faster time to value. And, with features like pay-as-you-go pricing, cloud solutions don’t require a big upfront investment, making them a popular choice with budget-conscious healthcare organizations.
Another key factor driving practice adoption of modern, cloud-based solutions is the need more efficient workflows to support effective patient billing. The patient share of healthcare costs is growing rapidly in the US. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, out-of-pocket costs have grown three times as fast as overall healthcare costs. And, the average deductible has skyrocketed from $584 in 2006 to $1,318 in 2015. Practices need solutions that can help them implement controls and analytics as patients become responsible for a greater share of costs.
As a result of these and other factors, cloud technology now plays a pivotal role in healthcare, and cloud-based healthcare IT solutions are becoming increasingly important in helping practice successfully navigate this new environment. So what’s in store for 2016? Here are some healthcare IT trends to watch:
A more modern, intuitive software experience: The consumerization of healthcare IT has begun in earnest, and that means practices are looking for design-centered products that deliver intuitive solutions. Cloud-based healthcare IT solutions that move beyond Web 1.0 to provide a consumer-focused user experience (UX) will be the clear winners.
Everybody knows that the US healthcare system is in trouble. Issues ranging from cost, to quality and access of care are rampant and only getting worse. On a macro level The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has solved some of the previous access issues, but has added tremendous cost within the system, and at the same time it has not solved the quality issues that exists.
Research suggests that the cost situation is becoming increasingly worse, which is causing firms to scramble for viability. Waves of cost cutting efforts have led payers and providers to capture some, but not nearly enough of the costs necessary for long-term survival.
There are two main cost challenges that both healthcare payers and providers share:
Wildly inefficient operating models and processes. The Harvard School of Public Health projects that of the $2.8 trillion the US spends on healthcare each year, 30 percent or $840 billion may be wasted. For organizations that function on small operating margins, this alone represents the boundary between success and failure.
Large stranded infrastructure and costs combined with declining revenues – The ratio of hospital expense vs. revenue has increased from just under 15 percent in 2011 to nearly 30 percent in 2014 with 25 percent of hospitals reporting an operating loss. For nearly 49 million enrollees in Medicare, hospitals receive only 88 cents for every dollar with lower reimbursement rates predicted in the future.
These pressures have led organizations to make hasty decisions about how to fundamentally solve the problem. Merger and acquisition activity among both payers and providers is at an all-time high, and the ACA appears to have been the catalyst for this M&A activity. Since its enactment, hospitals started merging with competitors at unprecedented rates. In 2009, pre-ACA, there were 52 announced transactions involving 80 hospitals. That number more than doubled by 2012, with 107 announced transactions involving 244 hospitals. The M&A frenzy among healthcare payers has also increased with Anthem’s announcement to acquire Cigna, and Aetna’s acquisition of Humana. Both of these were announced last year and are two of the largest payer M&A deals in history.
Guest post by Cathy Reisenwitz, content specialist, Capterra.
Every year at Capterra we predict the top trends in business technology. Last year we predicted gamification, wearables, telemedicine, mobile medicine, and 3D printing would be the top 5 medical technology trends for 2015.
This year, we expect wearables, telemedicine, and mobile medicine to continue to advance. They’ll be joined by cloud computing, patient portals, and big data.
Telemedicine has come a long way, from remote villagers using bicycle pedal-powered, two-way radios to communicate with the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia to helping recovering stroke patients in rural Minnesota avoid hours-long (and often snowy) drives for follow-up care.
As the technology has improved, the investment has increased. Transparency Market Research valued the global video telemedicine market at $559 million in 2013. Today, they predict it will grow to $1.6 billion by the end of 2020. Walgreens, the largest U.S. drugstore chain, and telehealth provider MDLive recently expanded their virtual care collaboration to 20 more states in November, bringing the total to 25.
Telemedicine offers tons of value to a large, growing segment of the population: seniors. Telemedicine improves care by getting it to remote patients who live far from hospitals. It also enables homebound patients to get high-quality care. It makes care cheaper, and allows seniors to stay at home longer. It benefits providers by making their jobs more flexible. And it also eliminates picking up new illnesses in a clinical care setting.
In rural Minnesota, nurses check motor skills by asking patients to push, pull and squeeze with their hands and feet. A doctor, located further away from patients, can advise on care onscreen.
Going back to wearables, their mass adoption has made store-and-forward telemedicine much easier. Devices like Fitbits automatically collect valuable health data. Store-and-forward telemedicine just means that data goes to a doctor or medical specialist so they can assess it when they have time. Watch for more EHRs learning to connect with wearables in 2016.
More EHRs will provide patient portals
Patient portals grew in popularity in 2014 and 2015. Twenty-six percent more patients received lab tests via an EHR patient portal between 2013 and 2014. Patients also received 50% more health and disease education through their portals in that time. “Patient engagement through health technology such as patient portals is rapidly increasing,” Craig Kemp, leader of innovative partnerships for Merck Vaccines, told mmm-online.com.
While about half of physicians offer patient portals right now, almost another fifth of them plan to offer one in the next 12 months. In a 2015 survey of more than 11,000 patients, 237 physicians, and nine payer organizations representing 47 million lives, almost a third of patients said they were interested in using a patient portal to engage with their physician, track their medical history, and receive educational materials and patient support. However, almost 40 percent said they’d never heard of a patient portal.
Educating patients on how and why to use portals will be key to getting them to use them in 2016.
The health IT revolution is here and 2016 will be the year that actionable data brings it full circle.
Opportunities to achieve meaningful use with electronic health records (EHRs) are available and many healthcare organizations have already realized elevated care coordination with healthcare IT. However, improved care coordination is only a small piece of HIT’s full potential to produce a higher level synthesis of information that delivers actionable data to clinicians. As the healthcare industry transitions to a value-based model in which organizations are compensated not for services performed but for keeping patients and populations well, achieving a higher level of operational efficiency is what patient care requires and what executives expect to receive from their EHR investment. This approach emphasizes outcomes and value rather than procedures and fees, incentivizing providers to improve efficiency by better managing their populations. Garnering actionable insights for frontline clinicians through an evolved EHR framework is the unified responsibility of EHR providers, IT professionals and care coordination managers – and a task that will monopolize HIT in 2016.
The data void in historical EHR concepts
Traditionally, care has been based on the “inside the four walls” EHR, which means insights are derived from limited data, and next steps are determined by what the patient’s problem is today or what they choose to communicate to their caregiver. If outside information is available from clinical and claims data, it is sparse and often inaccessible to the caregiver. This presents an unavoidable need to make clinical information actionable by readily transforming operational and care data that’s housed in care management tools into usable insights for care delivery and improvement. Likewise, when care management tools are armed with indicators of care gaps, they can do a better job at highlighting those patients during the care process, and feeding care activities to analytics appropriately tagged with metadata or other enhanced information to enrich further analysis.
Filling the gaps to achieve actionable data
To deliver actionable data in a clinical context, HIT platform advancements must integrate and analyze data from across the community—including medical, behavioral, and social information—to provide the big picture of patient and population health. Further, the operational information about moving a patient through the care process (e.g., outreach, education, arranging a ride, etc.) is vital to tuning care delivery as a holistic system rather than just optimizing the points of care alone. This innovative approach consolidates diverse and fragmented data in a single comprehensive care plan, with meaningful insights that empowers the full spectrum of care, from clinical providers (e.g., physicians, nurses, behavioral health professionals, staff) to non-clinical providers (e.g., care managers, case managers, social workers), to patients and their caregivers. Armed with granular patient and population insights that span the continuum, care teams are able to proactively address gaps in patient care, allocate scarce resources, and strategically identify at-risk patients in time for cost-effective interventions. This transition also requires altering the way underlying data concepts are represented by elevating EHR infrastructures and technical standards to accommodate a high-level synthesis of information.
Looking back at 2015, we see significant trends impacting inpatient telemedicine that will gain strength through 2016. Here are the Top Five: How they impacted healthcare, and how they will change hospital medicine moving forward.
More Legislation and Regulation Activity
A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures showed there were 200 telemedicine bills introduced in all but eight states in 2015. The federal government also introduced the TELEMedicine for MEDicare Act of 2015 and the Veteran’s E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2015, which are aimed at creating an interstate license for those practicing telemedicine for these patient populations. Last year, 32 states and the District of Columbia enacted telemedicine parity laws, requiring health plans to reimburse telemedicine the same way—and at the same cost—as in-person service. We expect to see more of this activity as telemedicine becomes an increasingly integral part of healthcare in America.
Easier Licensure Across States
Currently, if you have a group of physicians caring for patients in hospitals in four or five states, they must become licensed in each of those states. As noted above, recent legislation (along with new telehealth licensing compacts between states) will make it easier for physicians to get a license across state lines. This will clearly help facilitate the use of telemedicine services
Growing Financial Support
Today, the payer response can best be described as a patchwork. Medicare typically doesn’t reimburse for inpatient telemedicine (except in rural areas as Medicaid), and the commercial payers tend to vary from state to state. There isn’t a uniform basis for reimbursements. Many hospitals end up financing most of the costs of inpatient physician services delivered with telemedicine?and we all know healthcare dollars are tight for everybody. However, the physician reimbursement is moving, albeit slowly. The state parity laws will help. So, too, will having more commercial payers recognize the value of telemedicine services. For example, UnitedHealth Group announced plans to expand coverage for virtual physician visits to employer-sponsored and individual plan participants, increasing those covered from approximately 1 million to well more than 20 million. Better reimbursement structures will help fortify hospitals’ financial underpinnings and alleviate some of the burden they’ve been forced to bear.
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.
Last year, 2015, was a year of buildup, anticipation, and finally some bold moves to propel healthcare technologies forward, specifically regarding interoperability of data. The Office of the National Coordination, under the auspices of the department of Health and Human Services, released the long-awaited and much-debated meaningful use Stage 3 requirements in October. All the players in the health tech space were awaiting the final verdict on how Application Programming Interface (API) technology was placed into the regulations, and the wait was worth it, regardless of which side of the fence you were on. Before we get into the predictions, though, a little background knowledge about these technologies, and their benefits, will be helpful.
An API is a programmatic method that allows for the exchange of data with an application. Modern APIs are typically web-based and usually take advantage of XML or JSON formats. If you are reading this article, you almost inevitably have used apps that exchange data using an API. For example, an application for your smartphone that collects data from your Facebook account will use an API to obtain this data. Weather apps on phones also utilize an API to collect data.
Next let’s take a look at the history of interoperability of healthcare data. HL7 2.x is a long standing method to exchange healthcare data in a transactional model. The system is based on TCP/IP principles and typically operates with Lower Layer Protocol (LLP) which allows for rapid communication of small delimited messages. The standard defines both the communications protocol and the message content format. No doubt about it, HL7 2.x is incredibly effective for transactional processing of data, but it has been limited in two key areas:
A pioneering developer of a successful HL7 interface engine once said: “Once you have developed one HL7 interface … you have developed one HL7 interface.” The standard exists, but there is nowhere near enough conformity to allow this to be plug-and-play. For example, a patient’s ethnicity is supposed to be in a specific location and there is a defined industry standard list of values (code set) to represent ethnicity. In reality, the ethnicity field is not always populated and if it is, it rarely follows the defined code set.
HL7 is an unsolicited push method, which means when a connection is made, messages simply flow from one system to another. If you are attempting to build a collection of cumulative data over time, this is a mostly sufficient method, but what you cannot do is ask a question and receive a response. Although some query/response methods have existed for years, their adoption has been very sparse in the industry.
2016: Year of the Healthcare API
If you are a physician with an electronic health record (EHR) system and you accept Medicare patients, you likely have gone through the process of becoming meaningful use (MU) certified, which means you have purchased an EHR software solution certified by the ONC. This EHR must follow guidelines of technical features, and physicians must ensure they utilize those features in some manner. In October 2015, the ONC released MU Stage 3 criteria (optional requirement in 2017, mandatory in 2018) which includes this game changer: A patient has a right to their electronic health information via an API.