It goes without saying that advances in healthcare technology are fundamentally changing the way that medicine is practiced. Recently, it would seem that these advances have begun to evolve more rapidly and more profoundly.
For healthcare organizations, it is critical to stay ahead of the curve. In an industry as competitive and disrupted as healthcare is today, not staying on top of trends will invariably result in lost opportunities, less resiliency, and problematic cultural lag.
With that in mind, we'd like to share what we see as the top five emerging healthcare technology trends you should keep an eye on going into 2020 and beyond.
On the Mend, On Top of the Trend
Your strategic planning should take these healthcare technology trends into consideration in the coming months to ensure you remain competitive and compliant, and most of all to ensure quality patient care.
Visibility as an Operational Challenge
As the amount and sophistication of connected devices in healthcare organizations' networks increases, visibility into both singular endpoints and the entire network is becoming more challenging. In the U.S., there are more than 6,000 hospitals running more than 120 million connected devices.
The expansion of the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has complicated every healthcare organizations' cybersecurity strategy; with the challenge being particularly pesky in view of threats that pop up in the most unlikely of places. The proliferation of non-standard network connections means healthcare organizations may not even realize that certain devices could represent new vulnerabilities.
Maintaining visibility on all devices in real time is essential to maintaining a holistic cybersecurity approach. This means that connected organizations must be able to monitor, manage, and maintain all the devices on their networks.
Whether a device is always connected to the network, periodically connected, or even connected just once, healthcare organizations must be able to catalogue it and ensure it doesn't open the door to a compromise of data confidentiality or integrity. This "flagging and tagging" is the first step to achieving the type of visibility — both granularly and operationally — needed to enable smart classification, segmentation, and governance of devices based on an accurate understanding of risks.
Healthcare organizations must keep up with the pace of connected device proliferation in order to keep things running smoothly and proactively manage operational risks. Increasingly, it's the top operational challenge for Biomed, IT, and Information Security departments and, at its core, it's a matter of visibility.
In today's connected ecosystems — to ease, accelerate, and secure clinical operations — a more cyber-intelligent inventory management process is needed; one powered by real-time device tracking and classification and that lends itself to smart risk-wise segmentation regimes.
Cloud Transformation in Hospitals
Cloud-based infrastructure and data management have gained even more importance to healthcare organizations in recent years. Cloud-based storage offers the advantages of reduced setup and maintenance costs, as well as greater provisioning flexibility and data accessibility.
Thus far, most healthcare organizations have embraced a hybrid model, where some data lives on the cloud and other on premise. However, as more and more hospitals warm to the idea and begin migrating their EMR systems to the cloud, experts anticipate even greater adoption to come. A critical mass of support seems to be emerging around the notion that a decentralized data ecosystem offers far greater speed and convenience for complex organizations working with and sharing information with third-party and partner entities.
Moving to a more cloud-oriented model can also consolidate and streamline compliance and security requirements. As cloud service providers have improved their ability to secure data with investments in highly specialized staff, firewalls, and monitoring, they offer hospitals a relatively safe and cost-effective way to outsource the lion's share of data management.
Still, that doesn't mean that your move to the cloud is going to be easy or that there aren't drawbacks. You'll need to bear in mind that cloud and hybrid technology deployments come with their own unique security and operational considerations. As EMR guru John D. Halamka remarked at a recent HIMSS event, "Perhaps 80% of what a traditional IT or cybersecurity person knows today is irrelevant when moving to the cloud. It's effectively an entirely new job. Healthcare IT is late to the party. Hubris must be avoided and outside expertise sought."
This departure from the considerations with which you're already familiar and proficient will need to be born in mind and should translate into careful planning — both during and after migration. Among other things, you'll want to ask how a cloud service provider handles compliance and security issues before committing to a given vendor or even to the migration project in general.
Here are several steps you can take in advance of migration to help facilitate the project's success:
- Check if you are bound by any partner or third-party contracts that would prohibit you from moving some or all of your data infrastructure, storage, or direct management responsibilities off premise
- Map out a strategy to avoid service interruptions or downtime during migration
- Ensure compatibility between the new storage method and all current systems/services
- Define VPNs and other network configurations so IT and IS departments maintain their existing level of control over user access
- Ensure provisioning is in line with expected usage during peak demand
Of course, it's always important to do your research and set quantitative expectations in terms of what such a cloud transition is and is not likely achieve for your organization.
The Rise of the "Homespital"
Connective technologies have helped give rise to services like telemedicine that, as they advance in sophistication, are enabling patients to receive treatment from home while staying connected to a physician network. This technology has been gaining traction, and will continue to do so in 2020.
But this trend goes well beyond telemedicine to fundamentally reexamine our approach to health care. Instead of constantly playing medical catch up, there is a big push to create more proactive options for meaningful care. That's a benefit not just because preventative treatment is cheaper than responsive treatment, but because there's a growing body of evidence that shows it's also more effective; which is why we're witnessing the rise of the "homespital" — not as an alternative to the hospital but as a complement.
Novel technological applications and more conscientious health management reduces unexpected trips to the hospital, alleviating strains on already over-taxed infrastructure and avoiding lost economic productivity. What's more, improved remote patient monitoring technologies and wearable/implantable treatment systems allow for more advanced home care options and for those who are hospitalized to be more quickly discharged. The result is a dramatic expansion of outpatient care.
Amazon Alexa, for example, was used by Libertana Home Health to allow patients at independent living units in Valencia, California to connect with providers, schedule appointments, and set reminders about medications and other health-related tasks. The result was improved patient satisfaction, lower costs, less friction, and better outcomes.
Integrations Between Hospital EMRs & Personal Devices
Few aspects of healthcare have been subject to more drastic and rapid change than medical records. EMRs have revolutionized how healthcare providers store, access, and transmit patient health records. And while the transition hasn't always been easy (in many cases, it has been quite arduous), EMRs have opened new pathways to delivering care and tracking patient health information.
As EMRs have improved throughout the past decade, they have become more interoperable not only within hospitals' internal data management ecosystems, but with third-party services and applications. Increasingly — thanks to wearable fitness trackers — healthcare delivery organizations have new behavioral insights from which to draw as they examine and prescribe medical and lifestyle changes for their patients.
Earlier this year, the FDA approved an EKG monitoring feature on the Apple Watch. EMRs with the ability to integrate with a patient's Apple Watch could track EKG results on a regular basis, painting a clearer picture of a patient's heart health. Similarly, Withings recently released a smart blood pressure monitor. An integrated EMR could track the data captured by the patient's personal device and grant providers greater visibility into daily trends around their blood pressure results, all without the patient setting foot in a clinical setting.
These EMR innovations not only save time and resources, but offer healthcare providers a way to diagnose problems well in advance of a patient's next visit. While EMRs have often been the source of complaints from healthcare providers, these features enable better healthcare outcomes and increased patient satisfaction.
At the same time, using personal devices to store or access sensitive health information would mean that if those items get lost, stolen, or hacked that data would be at risk. In general, more data sharing means a greater potential for data breaches — and that demands an even stronger emphasis on cybersecurity.
Increased Regulatory Oversight
It's no secret that the healthcare industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world. However, new regulations enacted in the recent past and more coming down the pike in 2020 mean healthcare organizations must prepare to adapt yet again, many times over.
Over the last five years, the healthcare industry has shouldered many regulatory changes ranging from the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to ISO 13485:2016 (regulatory requirements for medical device quality management systems). In May 2020, the EU's Medical Device Regulation goes into full effect, meaning medical device manufacturers must be fully compliant with the directive's increased emphasis on their responsibilities throughout the entire device lifecycle. This could be further complicated by Brexit, which has created additional uncertainty for medical device manufacturers, particularly those in the UK.
And it's not only in the European Union that seismic regulatory shifts are taking place. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the U.S. state's answer to the GDPR, puts new rules in place governing healthcare data privacy. While HIPAA, the federal U.S. law that is a central consideration in a wide range of healthcare organizations' operations, applies only to "covered entities" that store "protected health information," the CCPA applies to all for-profit businesses processing data in California or regarding its residents.
In effect, HIPAA only covers health insurance companies, hospitals, clinics and clearinghouses. The CCPA is much wider in scope, covering all personal data created, processed, and transmitted by healthcare organizations. Navigating the changes and identifying where the CCPA supersedes HIPAA and where HIPAA alone applies will be an ongoing challenge for many healthcare organizations.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also getting in on the regulatory bonanza, having recently issued a new rule regarding fines for blocking patient access to their medical data. The first fine for the practice has already been levied on Bayfront Health St. Petersburg in Florida, totaling $85,000. Healthcare organizations must promptly update their policies and procedures to ensure patients are able to quickly and securely access data upon request.
It that weren't enough, IT executives are calling for a broader overhaul to HIPAA; one that would put even stricter rules covering personal health information in place. These calls come in the wake of Google's collection of healthcare data of more than 50 million Americans from the nation's second-largest healthcare system. The data, collected from patients in 21 states, was captured without patient knowledge or consent; triggering widespread concern that HIPAA's permission to share healthcare information with third-parties is dangerously loose.
Each of these changes, implemented and proposed, can create significant work on the part of healthcare organizations trying to stay compliant. Preparing well in advance of deadlines and monitoring communications from any and all regulating agencies is critical to avoid running afoul of any regulatory changes.
Stay On Top Of the Trends to Stay Competitive In 2020
It is imperative that healthcare organizations take advantage of the ever-improving features offered by modern technology — from EMR integrations to cloud storage to telemedicine services. However, as healthcare organizations implement more technology and embrace greater connectivity, the cyber risks to their networks and that data it contains also increases.
Implementing these technologies alongside a holistic cybersecurity plan and tooling fit for purpose is key not only for regulatory compliance but also patient well-being, improved healthcare outcomes, and increased patient satisfaction.