AI, cross-industry collaboration will continue to reshape healthcare in 2019, Optum says

The health IT vendor sees creative and cross-sector use of emerging technology among the big trends on the front burner at HIMSS19.
By Bill Siwicki
02:10 PM
AI, cross-industry collaboration will continue to reshape healthcare in 2019, Optum says

At HIMSS19, cross-industry collaboration and adoption of emerging technologies are two health IT trends that will be the focus of Optum, a health IT vendor whose products include analytics, population health and pharmacy care.

Health systems and physician practices have a long history of information-sharing to support population health goals and improve the patient experience, said Mark Morsch, vice president of technology at Optum, and that trend will only accelerate in 2019.

Practical results of emerging tech

“In the past year, we have seen a concerted effort to convene stakeholders on emerging technology capabilities like blockchain and AI/advanced analytics, which can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of care,” said Morsch.

“This year, our presence at HIMSS shows how emerging technology can have practical results, taking a closer look at personalized medicine, AI and machine learning, and IoT, and how these advancements can improve financial performance and population health, enable risk-based reimbursement programs, and modernize the military and veterans’ health systems," he added.

Those might appear to be lofty goals, but technology has improved how stakeholders in healthcare safeguard, interpret and share a trove of healthcare data. The industry often focuses on the power of technology, he said, but it’s really about clinicians' ability to apply it in ways that allow them to practice at the top of their license.

A standout 2019 health IT trend for Morsch is the fast pace at which healthcare organizations are adopting emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and advanced analytics.

“We recently surveyed 500 healthcare executives, and three out of four indicated they’re in the process of, or are going to, implement an AI strategy,” he said. “More than 91 percent of respondents also expressed confidence that their organization will see a full return on investment in about five years. We have not seen that kind of momentum since the wave of electronic health record adoption earlier this decade.”

The proliferation of data, including social determinants paired with more traditional claims and clinical data, and the ability to mine that information with new tools, is yielding new insights about cost, quality and access, and opportunities to improve, he added.

“What I’m most excited about is the way this can move us closer to a denial-free future where care is personalized and where we can redeploy resources to improve the experience of patients and families,” he said.

Let technology do it

Morsch believes people in general have reached a point in time where humans are more comfortable allowing technology to augment their day-to-day experience and enhance their decision making.

“Although there are some generational differences, think of how quickly healthcare organizations have moved to adopt devices like tablets and smartphones,” he noted. “The reality now is that technology is central to the care delivery experience for providers and patients and the proliferation of devices, data and connectivity is changing how individuals work and receive care.”

"To be successful in a business setting, investments in advanced analytics and AI must have a defined objective and align with your overall technology strategy."

Mark Morsch, Optum

On a related front, healthcare faces a talent shortage, especially when it comes to data science, he said.

“It’s difficult for health systems and physician practices that are worried about margins and changing reimbursement to compete for talent in an increasingly competitive and expensive global marketplace,” Morsch explained. “That’s one reason we are seeing a renewed emphasis on industry collaboratives and vendor partnerships to solve large-scale technology strategy and delivery needs.”

It’s also a reason that organizations are looking for practical applications of data and analytics – to make them more efficient and increase overall performance, he said.

Advice for HIMSS19 attendees

Asked what he would advise HIMSS19 attendees, Morsch stuck with his big theme: collaboration and AI.

“Collaborate for a shared vision: Healthcare is a very specialized industry and evidence-based decision making is at the core of our DNA,” he said. “For that reason, it’s really important to build the right team of multidisciplinary professionals. Sometimes you’ll be able to find the right skill set within your organization, but more often than not, success requires bringing in individuals from the outside, who can share a fresh perspective and keep you current with market movements.”

That said, Morsch recommends that healthcare organizations make sure the organizations they partner with have enough grounding in healthcare to understand their business models and operating environment so they don’t end up with technology investments that have little practical value.

“And focus on AI with ROI,” he added. “To be successful in a business setting, investments in advanced analytics and AI must have a defined objective and align with your overall technology strategy. One of the most interesting developments in healthcare is that more applied uses of artificial intelligence, like natural language processing for revenue cycle management or deep learning models that support disease prediction.”

These use-cases must be backed by a business case and defined problem where technology can augment the human – patient, provider or administrator – experience, he said.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com

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