2017 and beyond: When meaningful use winds down, what's next?

By David Karabinos
03:44 PM

Although the federal government’s meaningful use incentive program has been a driving force for healthcare IT innovation and adoption, it has also been a distraction—encouraging organizations to invest in technology with certain characteristics and capabilities rather than systems that fully address provider and patient needs.

Come 2017, the MU program will begin winding down, at which point it will be interesting to see what will happen with healthcare technology adoption and innovation. While public funding will dry up, by all accounts, a massive wave of private venture capital funding is on its way. The central question is will the industry be fatigued and resistant to change as in the past or will it embrace further advances?

Entering Uncharted Territory

No other industry has gone through a similar experience, where public policy and law incentivized and then obligated large-scale IT implementation. In fact, prior to Meaningful Use, healthcare IT adoption was slower than in other industries because clinicians were hesitant to change workflows and rally behind automation. MU launched a  swell of technology adoption, pushing the industry to innovate faster—and not always with the best results. In many cases, technology vendors designed systems to meet specific requirements and failed to deliver when it came to system usability and functionality.

Since no other business sector has gone down this road, it is hard to know for sure how healthcare organizations will respond once MU ends. However, given that some organizations have already proven to be early adopters while others have staunchly committed to maintaining the status quo, it is reasonable to expect that one-third of the industry will continue its enthusiasm for technology and embrace further innovation; another third will be worn out by the mammoth MU effort and refrain from further innovation; and the final third will probably pick and choose how they innovate based on a series of factors, including cost, possible benefits and how the technology advances strategic priorities.

A Glimpse at the Future

For those organizations eager to implement new technology, there are a few areas of innovation to watch. The following solutions have significant potential to help healthcare organizations improve their competitive position, comply with emerging regulations, enhance operational performance and foster patient loyalty.

Mobile applications that give clinicians anywhere, anytime access

Mobile technology for healthcare is currently in its infancy with clinicians using their mobile phones to text colleagues, send emails and surf the web. Mobile technology will continue to evolve in the coming years, so that physicians will be able to practice medicine from practically anywhere—prescribing medications, reviewing charts and responding to patient questions from a remote office, the golf course or even their daughters’ ballet recitals. Not only will this boost physician productivity, it will also make physicians more accessible to patients, allowing organizations to remain competitive, efficient and patient-focused.

Mobile applications that put consumers in the driver’s seat for purchasing healthcare

As patient out-of-pocket costs increase, consumers are going to start shopping around for healthcare, seeking the best value for their dollar. According to venture capitalist Emerson Fann, mobile applications that make it easy for an individual to research, price and obtain healthcare services are going to be popular, especially if patients own the data that comes out of these encounters and can easily share it with numerous providers. Using this kind of tool, a patient can check deductibles, care networks and costs for a procedure, making price comparisons and selecting the best fit. These tools may also cannibalize features of web-based portals, allowing patients to schedule appointments, get refills, ask questions and view lab results. Organizations that welcome this level of patient connectivity and engagement could enhance care quality and consumer loyalty, thus driving traffic into their facilities.