Athenahealth’s take on HIMSS20 trends: Primary care disruption, AI and competitive data access

The executive director of research at the cloud IT giant describes what CIOs and other healthcare leaders should be looking for at the global conference in March.
By Bill Siwicki
11:48 AM
Athenahealth’s take on HIMSS20 trends: Primary care disruption, AI and competitive data access

Update: HIMSS20 has been canceled due to the coronavirus. Read more here.

Jessica Sweeney Platt, executive director of research at athenahealth, has quite a lot to think about in her role there. She has to stay on top of all of the fast-changing trends across healthcare, and dig deep into all sorts of clinical and administrative details to help guide the company’s strategy.

Healthcare IT News asked Platt for some perspective on what athenahealth will be prioritizing at the HIMSS20 conference. Among its big plans: more disruption of old primary care paradigms, new AI and machine learning applications to improve patient and provider experience – and efforts to boost access to healthcare data nationwide.

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Disruption at the door of PCPs

This year, the front door of healthcare is where the greatest degree of disruption will occur, said Jessica Sweeney Platt, executive director, research, at athenahealth.

“This marks the convergence of several important trends: First, the locus of care continues to shift away from inpatient care, which places pressure on ambulatory care providers of all specialties, but especially primary care,” she explained. “In fact, according to IHS Markit projections, by 2025, the demand for PCPs is expected to increase by 12%, while the supply will increase by only 3.5%.”

Primary care physicians are being asked to treat more patients, to treat those patients more intensively, and to provide a greater variety of services and resources to their patients, she said. The increasing intensity in traditional primary care settings is exacerbating an already acute capacity problem, making traditional primary care settings ripe for disruption, she added.

"AI and machine learning can reduce the burden of healthcare administrative work for everyone."

Jessica Sweeney Platt, athenahealth

“Further, we will see disruption to traditional access points, in the form of retail clinics, urgent care centers, employer-sponsored care, telehealth and more,” Platt continued. “Patients have indicated that convenience and access are critical to their decisions about where and when to receive care, and they are increasingly willing to trade off continuity of care for convenience. This is particularly true of younger patients, with a reported 45% of millennials not having a PCP and relying instead on retail and urgent care.”

While increasing patients’ options for where to receive basic primary care is great, it also means even greater fragmentation of information and data – a full 62% of hospitals are not using patient data outside their EHR because external data is not available in their systems’ workflow, she said.

“We will see more and more urgency being directed toward connecting a primary care ecosystem that is fragmenting ever more rapidly,” Platt predicted. “The winners will be those that deliver the most value and convenience for their patients, without further contributing to fragmentation of the patient experience and the patient record.”

AI creates a frictionless experience

In 2020, artificial intelligence and machine learning will create a much more frictionless experience for both patients and providers alike, Platt said.

“It seems almost trite to talk about AI and machine learning as a trend – every conference, every magazine and every blog seems to be contractually obligated to mention them in some capacity,” she opined. “But I’ve been fascinated by some of the areas that are not making as many headlines. Depending upon which article you are reading, AI and machine learning are poised to reinvent imaging, cancer care, disease spotting and prediction, and many, many more clinical scenarios.”

And these are worthy, important investigations that have very real potential to save lives and entire value chains, she added. But one “killer app” for AI and machine learning that could be equally transformative is in removing friction from both the patient and the provider experience, she contended.

“For example: Imagine the improvement to a clinician’s documentation experience when their tools seamlessly serve up exactly the right information about their next patient,” Platt said. “Or the impact on a provider organization’s business performance that could come from perfecting the scheduling process so that no-shows are a distant memory. Even just one no-show increases patient attrition by almost 70%.

Further, she said, imagine the effect on patients with chronic disease if they have access to tools that can learn their habits and preferences and connect them with exactly the right information about their care plan at exactly the right moment.

“These are not necessarily moonshots – these are seemingly small, but extraordinarily powerful developments that could transform the relationship between providers, patients and information technology,” she said. “AI and machine learning can reduce the burden of healthcare administrative work for everyone. And if we do it right, the provider and patient won’t even know it’s there. All they will know is that healthcare just works better.”

Accessing data from across the country

Looking forward, the ability to access healthcare data from across the nation represents the next frontier of competitive advantage, Platt contended.

“We will start to see a shift in the competitive dynamics in healthcare – away from success driven by locking up large chunks of the market in proprietary networks, and toward advantage conferred by connection, synthesis and collaboration,” she explained. “Successful healthcare provider organizations will be those that connect with the broadest cross section of the industry and contribute to an ecosystem of shared knowledge and insight.”

There are several reasons why collaboration and openness beat closed and proprietary, especially when it comes to data, she said.

“First, networks get smarter as they get larger and more diverse,” she explained. “Minimizing the barriers to participation only makes that outcome more likely. As networks get smarter, the insights become more actionable. Users can compare performance to their peers and see clinical and financial trends emerge in close to real-time.”

Whether it’s best practices for collecting from patients or insights into flu trends, connected data networks represent an opportunity to improve healthcare in the wild, Platt added.

“Finally, the market seems to be moving toward rewarding – and in some cases requiring – greater openness and transparency around data,” she said. “Federal regulations around price transparency and information blocking are only the tip of the iceberg; healthcare journalists are leading an important movement to shed light on the toxic impact of surprise billing.”

Employers are starting to recognize the power that they exert and are demanding better visibility into the care that they pay for, regardless of where that care is delivered, she added. So all the major stakeholders are aligned around the common principle that data and information should flow freely and securely to benefit patients and their families, she concluded.

Athenahealth will be in booth 1240 at HIMSS20.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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