Predictions 2012: Consumers engage, drive HIT

By Marc Perlman
08:57 AM

With another year drawing to a close, healthcare leaders find themselves reflecting on what shaped the health IT industry in the past year - meaningful use, health information exchanges, challenges to healthcare reform, the promise of mobile technology, etc., to glean potential predictions for the year ahead. While no one can predict the future with certainty - especially in an industry at such an inflection point - there are insights gained this year that can be used as a foundation for the indicators of what promises to be another transformational year. While 2012 may be full of important deadlines, new regulations and significant projects in the pipeline, let's widen the lens and think about the trends and developments likely to drive the industry in 2012.

Consumers engage
Consumerism and personal accountability for health will gain increased momentum in 2012. As consumers continue to pay more out of pocket for health insurance, they are looking to take greater responsibility for managing the quality of their care, and in turn are ready to step up and take charge of their healthcare like never before. Access to quality information will be critical to the consumerism revolution, which means that there will be innovation in both personal health records (PHRs) and mobile healthcare, as consumers seek out new, convenient ways to manage their health. Conversely, healthcare providers will seek ways to drive down costs by delivering and monitoring care outside of the hospital walls, where the "care taker" will be the consumer or their loved one. We'll also see an amplified call for easily accessible quality and outcome data that enables consumers to meaningfully compare and contrast options.

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The foundation to make this revolution happen has been put in place in 2011. Programs such as The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology's Consumer eHealth effort, and its nationwide, pledge-based initiative to accelerate widespread consumer adoption of health IT by educating and engaging the public on its value and benefits, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Blue Button Initiative (a program enabling veterans to download information from PHRs into universal file formats that can be read and shared on any computer), demonstrate the early stages of the power shift, and collaboration between the provider and consumer. ONC is also putting a series of "innovation challenges" in place to ensure that creative approaches surface, as well. It's refreshing to see the potential of the public sector and private industry working together to propel the "care" in healthcare.

Investments in health IT will grow, while market players may consolidate
While there is considerable market growth ahead (in terms of spend) for health IT, we'll continue to see significant acquisition activity and key player consolidation in 2012. In 2011, this occurred with vendors, such as Eclipsys and Allscripts. We also saw new strategic directions from major players such as McKesson. We can expect to see smaller vendors with good IT offerings merge with the key players, while the others will become obsolete. Integration remains a challenge for the healthcare industry, which means that best of breed will continue to proliferate. However, these small boutique companies may become part of larger organizations looking to further bolster their offerings, while lowering total cost of ownership for their customers.

Health information exchange models will mature
Emerging and existing health information exchanges (HIEs) will mature, with what will hopefully be sustainable business models. Forward-looking providers will recognize the need for HIE infrastructure to evolve beyond pure IT, to connected health information management - the sharing of health information within and between organizations to improve outcomes, control costs and better utilize resources. A growing focus on interconnected knowledge, with the overarching need for privacy and security, are issues that must be addressed to ensure improved patient safety and to deliver on the promise of quality care. As such, provider organizations will increasingly speak with one voice as they seek to solve key challenges in the delivery of connected care. On the other side of the coin, single-vendor "closed solutions" will need to do a better job with interoperability to remain competitive. Our nation cannot afford monolithic silos of information that do not allow for the secure exchange of personal healthcare information and integrated connectivity among all systems.

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Potential bottlenecks in access to care
It's no secret that the quantity of care givers will continue to decrease while the need for access to care will increase. Care-access issues will further escalate as healthcare reform phases in and millions more Americans gain health insurance, while provider and clinician shortages become more acute. The way primary care will be delivered will evolve as the nation finds new ways to care for its citizens. This reality will drive the need for innovative technologies that facilitate decision making for allied health professionals, so they can predictably and safely manage more routine care, enabling more complex situations to receive the attention and expertise needed. Telemedicine and m-Health will be important parts of the solution, driving multi-channel connectivity to ensure continuity of care and collaboration among the extended care team. Care will evolve from episodic to longitudinal, but in order to deliver quality outcomes, changes in reimbursement that support the entire process will need to mature. These proven and cost-effective solutions should not be limited by financial reimbursement when our need to provide improved access and lower-cost healthcare is paramount to ensure a viable system.

The year ahead will, no doubt, bring some unanticipated developments. I've shared some of my thoughts, now it's your turn. What are your predictions for health IT in the upcoming year? What will drive innovation in the year ahead?