The expansion of artificial intelligence in healthcare has garnered significant industry hype over the past year, as health IT executives recognize its potential to transform healthcare delivery — and its efficiency. According to the recent Health IT Industry Outlook Survey, which highlights healthcare CIO strategic goals and pain points, 32% of hospital CIOs recognize AI and machine learning as the top health IT priority for the next year.
While not a new concept, the advancement of machine learning algorithms has accelerated generative AI’s potential to solve health system challenges, like provider shortages and clinical burnout. This has created a sense of urgency amongst healthcare organizations to rapidly implement and expand these technologies. However, IT departments — struggling with their own workforce challenges — bear heavy operational burden if resource and support strategies aren’t in place to shoulder these evolving tools and their growing user expectations.
Before expanding AI initiatives, hospitals and health systems must address operational barriers and process inefficiencies. Finding the proper balance between workforce optimization and automation is key in developing a successful IT support framework.
Securing qualified IT resources amid staffing shortages
Despite compounding IT team workload, talent strain remains a top obstacle for hospital and health system CIOs this year, with 44% of survey respondents highlighting “retaining and budgeting for qualified IT resources” as the greatest operational challenge.
To secure resources and strengthen support processes, IT executives must first evaluate their current support models, gauging their capacity to withstand project load, user experience needs, and budgetary pressures. Having identified support gaps, leaders can then consider workforce optimization initiatives — improving retention strategies, seeking staffing partnerships, or utilizing blended support frameworks — to ease talent strain.
Survey results also revealed that most healthcare CIOs (36%) deemed “flexible IT staffing support to ramp up or down with project demands” as the No. 1 area in which they desired stronger support. By moving beyond conventional staffing approaches, hospitals can develop adaptable IT programs, better equipped to support advancing consumer expectations, compete with new market entrants, and maintain new care models.
With the new year, healthcare c-suite members are taking a critical look at upcoming market movement to maintain a holistic view of their organizations’ needs. Discussing industry trends at the recent College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) CIO Forum, Anna Pannier, senior director of Ascension Technologies at Ascension Saint Thomas, noted the significant change taking place in the value-based care and wellness marketplace as a top concern for healthcare organizations.
As healthcare leaders, like Pannier, look to stabilize their IT strategies and drive meaningful patient outcomes and operational efficiency, they should assess these five c-suite hot-button topics in the next year.
The shift in data analytics
As a more mainstream solution in the healthcare industry, data analytics is not considered the big “game changer” any longer, but it is still a significant investment focus for providers over the next year. Many healthcare facilities assume that once an analytics platform is implemented, they are ahead of the game. Unfortunately though, those same organizations fail to customize dashboards, continuously assess data, or really break down data insights for meaningful change and care decisions. Driving quality outcomes through data analytics to prepare for the future of population health risk management will be a large focus in proactive facilities.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare has now surpassed data analytics on the new investment frontier. The industry has already seen AI application in pathology and radiology in the past year. Eighty percent of healthcare professionals believe that AI is helping to reduce physician burnout, according to a MIT Technology Review survey. Respondent hospitals said AI has increased patient consult time, improved team collaboration and boosted productivity through workflow enhancements.
Similar to data analytics, the CIO will need to work with leadership groups in both the clinical and business sides to determine AI use cases across their evolving organizations. Thought typically applied to clinical care, applying automation and AI on the operations side will drive workload transformation across key business functions.
Greater emphasis on patient engagement
With most organizations having a fully implemented EHR, healthcare organizations are looking to make the most of their long-term investment. Added pressure from value-based care documentation and reimbursement initiatives, as well as increased consumer expectations, drive emphasis on patient engagement. Yet, meaningfully connecting and interacting with healthcare consumers in their patient care plans still lacks.
In fact, pointing to limited or complicated instructions for the everyday patient, a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that hospitals are not properly preparing patients to take advantage of patient portals. More healthcare organizations are now seeking around-the-clock direct patient portal support, as an extension of their IT service desk’s capabilities. This coupled with remote virtual monitoring will drive improved patient outcomes in the next year.
In the seventh annual Health IT Industry Outlook Survey conducted by Stoltenberg Consulting Inc., 42 percent of health IT leaders rate updating technology to improve the patient experience as the top objective for 2019, followed by measuring improvement in patient care (33 percent).
Coinciding with this pivotal focus on empowering the patient care journey, 45 percent of respondents identify value-based care as the most significant, pressing topic in healthcare this year, followed by artificial intelligence (26 percent) and cybersecurity (20 percent). Meanwhile, leveraging meaningful patient data (32 percent) serves as the largest overall hurdle for health IT teams in 2019, followed closely by ineffective IT or EHR operations (29 percent).
In the push to gain true value in value-based care initiatives, lack of system interoperability stands as the biggest operational burden for healthcare organizations (54 percent), followed by rising overhead and staff costs (17 percent), financial reimbursements (15 percent) and EHR burnout or reporting burden (14 percent).
“Thanks to the continuing industry push for healthcare interoperability, significant progress is starting to come to fruition,” said Dan O’Connor, vice president of client relations at Stoltenberg Consulting. “We’re now seeing a clearer picture of how different players across the care spectrum will be held accountable to drive more transparent, engaged patient care journeys, which in turn will help healthcare providers meet their organizational goals.”
Other key survey findings indicate that despite nearly universal initial adoption across the country, EHR and application implementation support (34 percent) remains the top 2019 IT outsourcing request, followed by optimization work (27 percent), legacy system support (22 percent) and help desk support (17 percent). Yet, with current IT training offered, 63 percent of respondents say they feel “unprepared” or “very unprepared” to manage and execute effective IT operations within their healthcare facilities.
Stoltenberg conducted the survey at the 2019 Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference in Orlando. More than 300 survey participants represented a comprehensive spectrum of provider facilities, including health systems, standalone hospitals, physician practices and other ambulatory care facilities. Clinical IT professionals led survey participation (38 percent), while executive/C-suite leaders followed closely behind (36 percent).
The 2019 HIMSS Annual Conference may be over, but that doesn’t mean an end to the pressing challenges and trends discussed at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. More than 42,500 people attended the conference — the majority of whom were C-suite executives and HIT professionals taking full advantage of the healthcare IT industry’s largest opportunity for networking, product promotions, continuing education and major announcements.
As always, there were a few subjects during HIMSS19 that generated significant buzz. Here are four of those trends that will remain key topics throughout the next year:
Healthcare data exchange
The release of two long-anticipated proposed rules on information blocking came just as HIMSS19 convened. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) unveiled proposals that would require healthcare providers and plans to implement open data sharing technologies to support transitions of care. The first focuses on standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) and carries forward provisions from the 21st Century Cures Act.
Those associated with Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage and Qualified Health Plans in the federally-facilitated exchanges would have to provide patients with immediate electronic access to medical claims and other health information by 2020. Under a latter proposal, health information exchanges (HIEs), health IT developers and health information networks (HINs) can be penalized up to $1 million per information blocking violation, but providers are not subject to fines.
The goal of the proposals is to consider care across the entire continuum, giving patients greater control and understanding of their health journeys. This is interesting, given that HIMSS attendees who responded to Stoltenberg Consulting’s seventh annual HIT Industry Outlook Survey noted “lack of system interoperability” as one of their biggest operational burdens, and “leveraging meaningful patient data” as the IT team’s most significant hurdle this year. Thus, overcoming these challenges to meet the newly proposed mandates will likely dominate discussions during the remainder of 2019.
Travelers through the trade show floor at HIMSS14 continue to find themselves in the city of senses that is the HIMSS conference. From flashy devices, bright lights, loud music, champagne by the glass and interesting architecture, in many ways this show reminds me of the last time the show was in Orlando. Same energy and excitement, and much the same feel from the show floor. Though it seems like little has changed from the exhibitor perspective, it’s still a nearly overwhelming experience here.
This year, more than 35,500 are here in Orlando, up from 32,500 last year.
The following are some images of the more than 1,200 vendors at the show.
Alere has one of the most visually interesting booths at the show: