Health IT Areas to Watch in 2018

Dan Martin

For those aboard the ride that has been healthcare these past few years – changing legislation, new administration, technological advancements, increased consumerism, the shift to value-based care/outcomes, M&A within many sectors, and the plethora of non-traditional companies entering the healthcare market, to name a few – please remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened. The ride isn’t over, and likely won’t be for some time.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

With the ongoing cloud of uncertainty hanging over the healthcare industry due to continued debate and unresolved policy issues, there is much to be excited about as we continue to watch this amazing industry evolve right in front of our eyes.

Healthcare marketers who are willing to stay on for the ride should consider uncertainty and shifting landscapes as opportunities to innovate instead of deterrents. Those who do will find 2018 to be fun, exciting and filled with great potential.

At PAN Communications our healthcare team is working with clients across the spectrum of B2B Health IT and, more specifically, within the digital health space, that are face-to-face with the challenges mentioned above. We’ve noticed a few key areas worth tracking as we put January behind us and move deeper into 2018; areas that will continue to shift the dynamics in the space and impact core constituents, from vendors and patients to payers and providers.   

healthcareSource: pixnio.com used under CC license.

The (Continued) Rise of Consumerism

Consumers are increasingly responsible for the cost of their healthcare – rising deductibles, growing out-of-pocket costs and accelerating adoption of consumer directed health (CDH) plans and accounts. As a result, healthcare consumers, who now have more and more money at risk and skin in the game (pun intended), have become increasingly more engaged with their healthcare decisions. However, while improvements have been seen in consumerism behaviors (e.g., greater confidence in saving and spending – sidebar: check out this report from Alegeus, the market leader in CDH solutions), it’s evident that consumers are still confused, frustrated and don’t feel they have the proper tools and resources to effectively and efficiently manage their own health or make informed decisions. Unlike other industries where side-by-side comparisons of features, benefits, and costs are available, the healthcare industry is a maze of choices, contact points, service flows and ambiguity – all with no upfront pricing. But, we expect that will continue to change in 2018 as vendors continue to innovate and provide patients with more options to better understand and manage their care. By the same token, plans and employers will adopt these platforms in greater numbers to make healthcare more understandable and transparent.   

Improving the Patient Experience

The patient experience can mean several different things, depending on the context. Yet, at the end of the day, 2018 should see advancements in all aspects of the patient experience within the overall healthcare ecosystem, online and offline/in-person. As healthcare continues to catch up to its peer industries and meet consumers where they live, work and play, the place and manner of healthcare delivery will continue to evolve in 2018. We’ll see providers continue to move out of traditional healthcare settings and into locations such as retail centers (think Rite Aid’s RediClinic). We’ll also see continued adoption and use of telemedicine to expand the reach of clinical health services.

According to a recent Hospital & Health Systems Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey:

  • Telemedicine adoption will double by the end of 2018;
  • 76 percent of hospitals have or will be implementing consumer telehealth by December 2018;
  • 69 percent of the organizations that already have telehealth are expanding their programs.

We’ll also see improved experiences as they relate to peoples’ interaction with their providers, benefits and other associated resources and information about their care. Websites and portals will continue to become more user-friendly and navigable. Pamphlets, decision aids and brochures about treatment options, plan selections and other major healthcare decisions will further adjust their literacy levels to ensure they can be consumed by everyone at a Fourth Grade reading level and above. Billing process efficiencies will all be addressed and advanced. Let’s also not forget the in-person experience patients have when they go to a doctor or other healthcare provider. We’ll see continued efforts to improve the use of, and integration with, electronic health records, care coordination technologies and processes, and practice management and operational workflows.

Preventative Care

Lowering costs is a central pillar of today’s healthcare discussion. The goal of preventive care is to help people stay healthy. The idea is to catch and treat disease before it can become catastrophic...and costly. 2018 should witness increased focus on strategies and innovations that incorporate nontraditional elements, such as providing access to nutritionists for improved dietary habits or digital applications and/or gamification that spur healthy behavioral changes in people. These preventative approaches are effective in improving the management of chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, cancer, heart disease) and in helping people make changes before they go too far down the path that leads to serious illness – and increased costs for all. Preventative care also helps people remain productive, enabling them to keep earning well into their senior years so they can retire when they want to and not when they are forced to because of poor health. Most people don't realize that health care costs are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy.

Genomics and Personalized Medicine

What diseases people get, and how they respond to drugs, depends, in large part, on individual genes. Knowing an individual’s genetic code makes it possible to design specific drugs and treatments that work best for each person – an approach known as personalized medicine.

Realizing the enormous promise of personalized medicine hasn't been quick or easy. It has required major scientific and technological advances to prove the links between genetic variations and diseases, and to dramatically lower the costs of identifying and sequencing genes. Think back 15+ years to the race for the $1,000 genome!

But recent progress has been impressive. In the last few years, more than one-quarter of all new drugs approved by the FDA have been personalized medicines. By 2020, the total market for targeted therapies and gene tests is expected to top $149 billion per year. 2018 should be a big year for the further advancement of technologies that will continue to propel the personalized medicine market.

Cybersecurity

The healthcare industry is undergoing massive change when it comes to the adoption and utilization of technology. There are many associated benefits when it comes to improving care, managing the health of entire populations and reducing costs. However, one byproduct raising issues for healthcare organizations is the ever-increasing amount of data that is created and what that means for securing that data.

Certainly this issue isn’t totally new to healthcare but it was put on the map on a national stage in 2015 with the largest healthcare breach ever recorded involving health insurance company, Anthem. That breach exposed the personal records – including names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal info – of 78.8 million current and former members and employees of the company. Then, 2016 was known as ‘the year of the data breach’ in healthcare, accounting for 35 percent of the overall number of data breaches across all sectors. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, by 2021, annual damage from security breaches across all sectors is projected to reach $6 trillion. In the healthcare sector specifically, healthcare organizations can face as many as 100,000 security events a day, according to a Ponemon Institute report.

In 2018, more healthcare organizations and companies will look to vendors and managed services providers to maintain and mitigate security incidents and challenges. Also, new solutions and technologies to stay ‘one step ahead’ will be prevalent, as will increased employee and patient education and training programs.

As we gear up for HiMSS 2018 in Las Vegas from March 5-8, we are looking forward to seeing how these trends play out in the media as different vendors use the venue to illustrate their vision for the future and showcase how their latest innovation stands to shape that future. We’ll be keeping a close eye on these trends and others right here on our blog, as well as in real-time on our Twitter handle. Be sure to follow along at HiMSS and throughout the year…and, as always, we welcome your input, insight and commentary.

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