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Commentary: A health IT wish list for 2017

From health policy to cybersecurity, better interoperability to more usable EHRs – a long list of hopes for the year ahead.
By Mike Miliard
11:56 AM
health IT wish 2017

As 2016 gave way to 2017, Healthcare IT News readers shared with us their expectations and hopes for the year ahead. "We are in an age where technology has extended so far into the realm of healthcare that it has become one of the most critical things," Joe Fisne, associate chief information officer at Geisinger Health System, told Managing Editor Bill Siwicki.

In an era where healthcare and health IT are so intertwined – quite a change from even a few years ago – the list of longed-for improvements in the New Year is necessarily a long one.

Our readers report the need for safer data security practices, more innovative applications of analytics for population health management, improved EHR usability and workflow, and an industry-wide commitment to interoperability that does more than pay lip service to fixing ongoing problems.

We also have some wishes of our own for 2017.

Top among them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is some clarity from Washington on just where President-elect Donald Trump and his GOP-majority Congress plan to steer healthcare in the years ahead. While repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law has been the dream of many Republicans, the thought of 20 million or more Americans suddenly losing the insurance they’ve come to count on – never mind the chaos that repeal-without-replace would bring to payers and providers alike – is hard to countenance. 

[Survey results: A look ahead for healthcare IT in 2017]

The same hope holds true for health IT in particular. In December, we made the case that Trump should respect the essential role information technology can play in enabling value-based care. We also argued that the potentially transformative work begun by the Precision Medicine Initiative, the BRAIN Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot should be allowed to continue, fully funded.

Obama’s signing of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act in mid-December looks as if it will enable the latter, at least, but the precise level of support IT will enjoy at the federal level remains to be seen. The Office of the National Coordinator, for instance, seems likely to see its role change, if not diminish, if only because of staff turnover.

As of this writing, meanwhile, concrete policy statements from proposed HHS Secretary Tom Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma have been few. But their considerably less-than-full-throated support for the value-based push the industry has come to take for granted these past eight years is hard to ignore. And so is Trump’s track record of naming several Cabinet Secretaries so far whose resumes stand in stark contrast to the missions of the departments they’ve been tapped to lead.

At a recent Healthcare IT News event, HIMSS Director of State and Federal Affairs Jeff Coughlin admitted he didn’t "have a crystal ball" but said he’s optimistic that value-based care is "favored by both parties," and that health IT might even become a big part of Trump’s economic stimulus plans, with cybersecurity, precision medicine and telehealth advancements all driving growth. We hope he’s right.

Beyond the politics of Washington, though, the real job of transforming healthcare through IT is done at hospitals and physician practices large and small across the 50 states. And the work goes on at those thousands of provider sites, whoever happens to be living in the White House (or Trump Tower, as the case may be).

Toward that end, we share the hopes expressed by the readers who responded to our 2017 survey: a year of continued growth, improvement and advancement.

We hope for policy clarity with regard to MACRA and meaningful use, each with their own sets of sometimes confusing requirements. We hope for EHRs that offer ease-of-use and interconnectivity, continuing to transcend their early beginnings as "dumb data communication systems without emphasis on exchange and workflow" (in CIO John Halamka’s words). We hope for pop health efforts to continue making inroads, with optimized analytics platforms enabling targeted care to the patients who need it most.

We hope for continued hard work on the cybersecurity front, as providers acclimate to this new reality and marshall their defenses against bad actors of all types – approaching network and application security, data encryption and mobile device management as imperatives every bit as important as any other aspect of care delivery. And we’re hopeful too about the promise of emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, machine learning, genomics, blockchain – to find footholds and improve the quality and efficiency of care as they become easier to understand and cheaper to deploy.

Here’s to a good year.  

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
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