By Sheri Stoltenberg, CEO, Stoltenberg Consulting.
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.
Putting the value in value-based care
A majority of HIT Industry Outlook Survey participants, mostly representing provider health systems, also identified value-based care as the biggest health IT industry topic in 2019. From improved patient portal education and experiences to better interoperability between business office and patient care initiatives, realistically optimizing processes for meaningful data insights is key for value-based care success.
As the provider market shifts with mergers and acquisitions, health systems need to integrate new facilities more seamlessly without losing sight of ongoing momentum. At the same time, in today’s consumer-driven healthcare market, they must accommodate patients who want more transparent access to their health data and billing information. To succeed amidst value-based care pressures, health facilities need to realistically determine project priorities for internal IT staff. Areas like system new version training and IT service desk support are common options to outsource support to maximize efficiency and maintain support levels. Doing so can alleviate strain from internal teams and increase both patient and end-user satisfaction scores in the end.
Healthcare cybersecurity still weighs heavily on concerned providers amidst the continuous evolution of ransomware and breach efforts. Released during HIMSS19, the HIMSS Annual Cybersecurity Survey identified “bad actors” — such as cybercriminals and others with malicious intent — as the source of most security incidents. Online scam artists are the most frequently cited threat in 2019, while negligent insiders also contribute to major security incidents. Almost 60 percent of survey respondents cited email as the common point for compromising private information, yet 36 percent of non-acute care organizations claimed their facilities do not conduct phishing tests.
All across HIMSS19, attendees saw use cases for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning integration into clinical decision support. As opposed to replacing the role of clinicians, these capabilities now present a means to enhance clinical operations. During HIMSS19, IBM Watson Health announced a 10-year, $50 million investment in AI research partnerships with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The goals of the partnerships are to improve the utility of EHRs and claims data, and to address important public health issues like patient safety, precision medicine and health equity. Amidst the AI conversations, while most applaud the potential of actionable clinical insights, others call for better regulations and standards for evaluating AI-based algorithms. Additionally, many leaders pointed out that while the industry is excited to embrace AI, most hospitals have yet to reach the full potential of their data analytics capabilities to identify realistic impact for organizational decision making.
Each of these four trends has standardization challenges that will need to be resolved as healthcare pushes to become more consumer driven. For that reason and more, expect to see the finalization of the official health data exchange proposals — along with value-based care progress, cybersecurity observations and artificial intelligence developments — to rule the health IT industry’s headlines for the next year to come.