The 5-year plan: Where will healthcare be in 2017?

In an industry where change has come quickly and continuously – and sometimes surprisingly – what can we expect the coming years to look like?

Now is time of year when people dust off their crystal balls, polish up their powers of prognostication and make predictions for the annum ahead. What will 2012 hold in store?

But with healthcare information technology evolving at warp-speed, Healthcare IT News wanted to cast a longer view: What can we expect five years from now? Where will we be in 2017?

Changes and about-faces, after all, can come quickly. Look at healthcare reform: That "big [blanking] deal" (in Joe Biden's timeless turn-of-phrase) was signed triumphantly into law in March 2010. In March 2012, the Supreme Court will weigh whether the legislation lives or dies.

But change can also come steadily and inexorably. Few could have imagined, after all, back when George W. Bush first called for expanded health IT deployment in his 2004 State of the Union Address, the vast growth the sector would see. From here-goes-nothing EHR installations at the smallest physician practices to huge, hospital-wide RTLS deployments to an explosion of patient-centric mobile health technology, the past five years have seen an unprecedented shift in the way care is delivered.

So where will we be five years from now? Can we transcend a bad economy and worse political discourse to further transform healthcare for the better? Will we be reaping the benefits of the fully wired and interoperable system to which we all aspire? Will the data and metadata gleaned from meaningfully used EHRs be transforming patient- and population-level health? Will access be improved? Will the cost curve be bending?

By 2017, meaningful use Stage 3 will – with luck! – be written into history, the last stimulus check long since cashed. The ICD-10 switch will – with luck! – be old news, having gone off without a hitch four years prior. Accountable care organizations will – with luck! – be accepted and established across the land.

Or not, of course. Only time will tell.

FIXING A BROKEN SYSTEM

As a certain gnomic Secretary of Defense once put it, there are known knowns, there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns. Let's start with what we know.

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