4 Takeaways for the Future of Healthcare IT
April 5, 2022, 11:00:00 PM
As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, what will its IT sector look like in years to come?
The healthcare industry in the U.S. is in the midst of major change, from evolving patient expectations to hybrid approaches to care. As many healthcare organizations continue their digital transformation journeys, the technology that helps deliver care will also evolve. So, what will the landscape look like for the healthcare IT workforce?
The U.S. government is keenly interested in bolstering the future health IT workforce. Pledges to invest in public health to better respond to future pandemics and agreements to promote diversity in workforce development are just some of the federal initiatives aimed at improving a critical sector of one of the largest employers in the country.
Here’s a glimpse at which healthcare IT workforce trends need clarity and which need debunking.
FACT: Interoperability Is Getting Better
Seasoned healthcare IT professionals know that medical system vendors have been promising interoperability among tools and products for years — and have rarely delivered. The rise in consumer acceptance of technology has shifted the playing field, and interoperability of electronic medical records is finally getting serious traction in the otherwise fragmented U.S. healthcare environment.
Key to this change are the 21st Century Cures Act and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recently finalized rules that focus on the patient rather than the provider for information sharing. This leaves providers and payers in a difficult situation: Deadlines are looming, yet healthcare systems on legacy hardware and operating systems are holding them back from supporting the interoperability and controls required.
IT teams have been asking for replacements for older, difficult-to-maintain systems. The push for interoperability among products is going to prioritize those requests as administrators see the gap between what is expected and what is possible with current software.
IT teams should start to educate themselves about new standards and interoperability tools. For example, the venerable Health Level 7 standard has morphed through multiple generations to Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. Imaging systems universally tout support for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine, but DICOM now has 22 parts, which means that every product implements a different subset of the bigger picture.
Understanding these standards, how they will support interoperability and what additional tools are needed to glue different systems together is a key job skill for healthcare IT.
FALLACY: It’s All About Doctors and Hospitals
Most of the developments in IT and technology over the past 30 years have focused on high-volume, patient-facing scenarios: radiological imaging, delivering lab results, accuracy in prescribing medications and, of course, billing. Because that’s where the action is, it’s easy for healthcare IT teams to ignore the low-volume scenarios before and after a clinical visit.
Yet, technology is pushing out beyond hospital walls, and healthcare IT teams need to look outside of their local environments to keep up with a newer, more holistic view of healthcare.
For example, public health researchers have been using real-time analysis of social media networks, such as Twitter and Instagram, and search engines like Google to monitor and predict the spread of infectious diseases. Though that data isn’t well localized, it can deliver more information about what’s happening and what clinicians and hospitals will be seeing in the coming days and weeks.
Smart healthcare IT teams are looking at these different uses of technology to think about how extra-clinical information can be integrated into their own systems and processes.
FACT: Telehealth Is Here to Stay
The use of telehealth skyrocketed in 2020, with clinics and hospitals ramping up heavily, often struggling as they did so. IT teams know that telehealth is not going away, but they should also be watching carefully for how telehealth will evolve after the 2020 surge.
This is important because it’s not just “more bandwidth and cameras,” but because clinicians will be adapting to different modalities of delivering telehealth services, IT will have to deliver the technology to support them.
Videoconferencing and audio conferencing, text messaging and email will all be part of the growing telehealth mix. Another key trend: Clinicians who haven’t fully adopted telehealth will find new inspiration as IT teams provide stronger toolsets, and as patients grow to accept (and possibly become enthusiastic about) healthcare delivered using technology.
Of course, the shadow of HIPAA will be falling back on telehealth once the federal government declares the nationwide public health emergency over. When that happens, IT teams will need to make sure that all the tools clinicians use to deliver telehealth are compliant with HIPAA Privacy and Security rules. Keep in mind that HIPAA enforcement is only on pause for good-faith violations of the rules by providers, which means that experimentation in different telehealth technologies without considering security and privacy remains unacceptable.
FALLACY: Interest in Technology Is for Younger Generations
The idea that only younger people are interested in technology is just a stereotype. When it comes to healthcare, every age group is interested in seeing what technology can do to improve outcomes and streamline the process.
Consumer-level technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, are increasingly being used as critical parts of the process, whether at clinics, for in-home care or in senior care facilities. The trend of mixing consumer technology with healthcare-related software has created new problems in troubleshooting and support that most IT teams have tried to avoid.
To respond to this shift, healthcare IT teams need to think about the provider and the patient. Providing technology support for the patient may be less intense than helping the clinician, but no less important. It is more complicated to deliver support to patients of any age group when you’re mixing healthcare software with mobile devices.
IT teams, which are typically understaffed and underfunded when it comes to end-user support, need to start planning now for an increase in demand for this type of patient interaction.