No matter what shape the American healthcare system might take in the coming years, it will certainly involve the expanded use of electronic health records (EHR).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lists health information technology and the meaningful, secure exchange and use of electronic information at the top of its management and performance challenges for 2017 and beyond.
Specific health IT challenges for the near future include:
- Ensuring privacy and security of information
- Improving the flow of complete, accurate, timely information
- Guarding against fraud
- Encouraging the electronic exchange of data.
Practitioners in the field of health informatics can help meet those challenges. In fact, as more hospitals and insurance companies move to an EHR model, health informatics could become more important than ever as lawmakers grapple with how best to meet the increasingly complex healthcare demands of the American people.
Health informatics is the implementation of digital technology for gathering, storing and sharing medical data. The field got a legislative boost when the federal government incentivized the use of EHR for hospitals and other healthcare organizations as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.
Because of those federal incentives, 2017 marks a milestone for health informatics in the U.S. By the end of the year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are mandated to have electronic health records ready to go or risk losing their EHR incentive risk losing their EHR incentives in 2018.
To that end, one anticipated trend for 2017 is for organizations in the beginning or middle stages of EHR implementation to ramp up their efforts to maintain their eligibility for federal funding.
Here are a few other health informatics trends to watch for in the coming year:
More sophisticated verification of the efficacy of health apps. With more than 165,000 health and fitness apps available for digital purchase from Google and Apple, the use of smartphones and other mobile devices for health purposes already is well-established.
A 2016 study out of Australia’s Deakin University investigated the current body of knowledge about health apps. It concluded that in order to understand how effective apps are at improving health, betters methods of evaluation are necessary.
As app developers seek an edge in the increasingly competitive mobile health app field, look for them to continue to seek more accurate, reliable means to verify the efficacy of their products. As the industry matures, a richer data set should help consumers understand exactly what they’re getting for their money.
Greater focus on cybersecurity. The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee focused strongly in 2016 on perceived security and privacy vulnerabilities of EHR. Specifically, hearings were held to examine the security of the “internet of things,” or wirelessly connected devices – including medical devices.
A statement issued to committee members by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) warned that without increased sharing of information and best practices, “tens of thousands” of interconnected medical devices would become increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Look for chief security officers from medical device manufacturers to work more closer with government agencies to improve methods of data exchange and communication among healthcare providers. The U.S. congress will continue to explore ways to implement protective regulation while supporting rigorous innovation in the face of ransomware and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services) attacks.
Expanded and more-detailed record sharing (interoperability). The Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (OCN) submitted a report to Congress in 2016 emphasizing the importance of interoperability in the healthcare field.
Interoperability involves the seamless flow of electronic health information among public and private stakeholders through simple-to-use systems made possible by recent technological advances. Having already established interoperability standards, the OCN’s new report emphasized several goals for the coming cycle:
- Support patient rights to access and control their personal health data
- Expose and eliminate the the practice of information blocking by public and private healthcare providers
- Promote transparency and technological innovation
- Improve the security, reliability and accountability of health IT entities.
Look for the emphasis on interoperability to accelerate in 2017 as public and private agencies seek to streamline their record-sharing procedures.