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Trends in healthcare IT

September 30, 2013

In an unpredictable economy, healthcare IT decision-makers must be as innovative as possible to keep their organizations afloat. This means that administrators need to establish best practices when using legacy technologies and keep up with the evolving IT services landscape.

While it is crucial that hospital and other healthcare executives implement specific IT applications and services that align with their internal objectives, managers must also be aware of the overall landscape and how emerging trends will impact their operations. Understanding some of the broad movements happening in the industry can give IT executives unique insight into what steps they should take to embrace innovation.

In general, there are three major trends impacting healthcare IT.

The rise of EHRs
As paper becomes as antiquated as the quill and ink that first marked it, healthcare firms are looking to go digital. To begin, many decision-makers are taking steps to implement electronic health records (EHRs). A recent Reuters Health report highlighted how the use of EHRs in the U.S. healthcare system, while still slowly gaining momentum, is proving to be beneficial. The survey polled roughly 170,000 patients with diabetes and found that the number of hospitalization visits dropped among firms using EHRs.

The use of EHRs enables physicians and caregivers to access patient information more quickly and provide more holistic feedback, which helps people make better decisions about their lives. Analysts told Reuters that they are pleased to see the benefits associated with using EHRs, though the use of the technology is only in its initial steps.

"This piece provides some early evidence that that investment is judicious," Dr. Rainu Kaushal, director of the Center for Healthcare Informatics and Policy at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told Reuters Health. "An EHR is a critical infrastructural tool to change the way in which healthcare is delivered, but it is one of a set of tools that needs to be employed."

Kaushal said that implementing EHRs with other technologies is where innovation truly resides. For this reason, hospital decision-makers should not spend all of their time on EHRs and should focus some of their energy embracing other emerging healthcare IT trends.

The Big Data push
The push to embrace digital technologies is also encouraging healthcare facilities to accumulate and analyze more information than ever before. Rather than simply dealing with gigabytes of data, hospitals and other facilities are being forced to manage terabytes and petabytes of information from multiple sources. While there are some initial hurdles, the overall move to the Big Data environment will yield significant results.

McKinsey and Company highlighted that the Big Data revolution is now well underway in the healthcare sector, enabling organizations to accelerate operations and deliver better value to patients. The broad scope of Big Data is what gives it its power in healthcare. While pharmaceutical companies can analyze information to ensure they have the appropriate stock of medication, hospitals can acquire real-time insight into allergies and other patient data, which can then be incorporated into the EHR.

Before jumping headfirst and implementing Big Data analytics and other IT applications, however, administrators need to get their bearings. TechTarget reported that organizations should first recognize the purpose behind Big Data projects, understand where and how information will be analyzed—including in cloud environments or on-site—and calculate the IT support that will be required to keep these operations up and running at all times.

Although the initial push toward Big Data can be overwhelming, decision-makers who plan ahead will likely find themselves encountering fewer obstacles down the line.

The mobile movement
Mobility is among the biggest technological disruptions to hit the entire business world, including the healthcare sector. A recent CompTIA report highlighted how many healthcare providers are on the verge of using mobile devices to conduct operations, as approximately 20 percent of physicians with access to a platform that supports mobile health applications use that tool on a daily basis. During the next year, this number is expected to jump to 62 percent.

"It takes time for emerging technologies to mature and for users to make sufficient progress along the learning curve before the benefits of innovation can be realized," said Tim Herbert, vice president of research at CompTIA.

In the coming years, the healthcare IT environment will continue to shift and transform as innovative solutions emerge. Forward-thinking executives need to plan ahead and calculate how leveraging those services will change operations. This proactive approach will represent the difference between successfully adopting next-generation healthcare IT trends and struggling to keep up with innovation.

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