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Healthcare IT Trends to Watch in 2018

As the tail end of the decade approaches, healthcare innovation is moving at a pace we’ve rarely seen before. While it’s not on par with the breakneck speed of other industries, healthcare is likely to experience some groundbreaking moments in 2018.

In the last year, we’ve covered events around the industry that are having far reaching impacts on how healthcare is delivered and analyzed. The upcoming year should see significant growth in key areas that could cause this new wave of innovation to pick up even more speed and significantly impact how the future of healthcare plays out.

Here are some trends to keep an eye on:

Telemedicine and Mobile Health Become Commonplace

It’s been said in years past, but this time telemedicine and mobile health really are having their biggest impact on healthcare to date. We’ve already seen significant growth in telehealth efforts, but in 2018, it’s expected to grow toward ubiquity due to growth in the amount of data being shared across providers, and increased usage of electronic health records (EHRs) and mobile health devices by consumers.

Mobile health technology is at the center of patient engagement strategies, a key component in the value based healthcare movement. New processes for the vetting and review of mobile apps may push their use to new heights.

AI Feels Less Artificial

You hear a lot about the power of artificial intelligence these days and with good reason. Artificial intelligence playing an integral role in the delivery of your healthcare no longer is the stuff of science fiction movies, and we don’t just mean AI’s role in diagnosis.

Internet of Voice devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa, and smart and wearable technology that can gather health data in real time are becoming commonplace. As these technologies develop, so does their ability to converse and seem empathetic or relatable to human beings.

Chatbots and other forms of AI now offer responsive interfaces that can educate patients, share data with providers and potentially improve patient adherence to doctor’s orders. The more realistic and empathetic these devices seem, the larger the role they are expected to play in areas such as mental health and rehabilitation.

Amazon’s voice-enabled device was the centerpiece of “The Alexa Diabetes Challenge,” in which developers were pitted against one another to create ways in which Alexa could be used to help type 2 diabetes patients manage their condition. The winner, called Sugarpod, involved the use of a voice-powered scale and foot scanner that examines the feet of the patient, where signs of diabetes often surface.

“Foot complications associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy can lead to foot ulcers, amputations, increased hospital visits, and increased deaths, and account for up to $9 billion in healthcare costs,” said Anne Weiler, the CEO of Sugarpod’s creator, Wellpepper, during the winner’s presentation in New York. “By continuously monitoring for foot ulcers, Sugarpod can save time and money and increase quality of life.”

AI also is expected to help in other areas, including pharmaceutical research and treatment centers according to a Forbes interview with Gunjan Bhardwaj, co-founder of Innoplexus, a technology company that seeks to solve challenges of the pharmaceutical and life science industries.

The Blockchain Discussion Continues

The role of decentralizing data and putting personal health data into the patient’s hands has fallen to blockchain technology, best known for its relationship to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

But for healthcare, blockchain has the potential to make a positive impact in data sharing, storage, integrity and usage in the delivery of value based healthcare. Additionally, blockchain will change the way we look at healthcare analytics according to Bhardwaj.

“Blockchain and AI will enable analysis of data sets that are not being currently analyzed together due to regulations or data privacy concerns,” he told Forbes.

Use cases for blockchain are becoming more clear by the day. With the Office of the National Coordinator and Food and Drug Administration examining its potential effect on precision medicine, it’s possible blockchain could be used in areas such as anti-counterfeiting, while aiding efforts related to mobile health and EHRs, thanks to the layers of applications that can feed off the its use.

Data Sharing and Patient Generated Data

In a recent two part interview with USF Health Online, the ONC’s Principal Deputy National Coordinator Genevieve Morris said that the sharing of data between providers is becoming more common, with 82% of hospitals and 48% of ambulatory doctors participating in information exchange.

Morris discussed the increased use of wearables and incorporating that data into EHRs, an area that could see significant growth in 2018 due to increased reliability of the data and the ease of collecting it from these devices. This patient generated data is being used in clinical trials and remote patient monitoring programs, showing massive potential in combating a number of diseases and mental health conditions.

That data and new approaches to analytics are a target for investment from both healthcare and big names in the technology sector. Data is a core tenant of value based care and the drive to reduce costs while improving outcomes, and will play a major role in healthcare innovation as we move through 2018.

Federal Regulations Impact Marketplace

From net neutrality repeal to standards on information blocking and the trusted exchange framework for interoperability being released from ONC, federal regulations and guidelines could play a major role in steering healthcare innovation efforts in 2018.

For the net neutrality piece, there is no concrete evidence that much of anything will change in terms of the average person’s access to high speed internet, but if it does, that could negatively impact the ability of some patients to access beneficial digital health offerings such as telehealth consultations. Additionally, healthcare companies rely on the internet for access to cloud based storage platforms that house EHRs. Increased cost could create problems in other areas of digital health that require investment.

Information blocking is an area that the ONC has been looking at for much of the last year and will release newly crafted regulations on in the Spring. If that happens, it may open new channels of information sharing that were previously blocked for competitive purposes and thus, raise the high watermark for data liquidity. And as Morris told us in her interview: “figuring out how we apply some of this new technology and computing power we didn’t have 5-10 years ago, that’s where we want to start seeing innovation and that means we have to get data to be liquid so that it’s flowing.”

Cybersecurity Stays in Focus

The federal government reported a 525% increase in medical device vulnerabilities in 2017. Cybersecurity was a major issue last year and will continue to be an area of concern in 2018 as the ONC looks to create more trust in health information exchange.

As previously mentioned, developments in the implementation of blockchain technology could have a big impact on cybersecurity efforts, but a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers highlighted the task of securing the internet of things in particular. More providers will likely look to establish policies related to the security of connected devices in 2018.

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