Healthcare IT, like all of IT, has changed tremendously over the past year. The Affordable Healthcare Act is now the law of the land (and will probably stay that way), which means digital record-keeping will continue to grow in importance. 2013 also marks the beginning of payment bundling, which will mean that more (and more reliable) data interchange will become increasingly necessary.
Our own ZDNet columnist, David Gewirtz, is also IT advisor to the Florida Public Health Association. I asked David to look forward into the new year and identify five major trends that will truly have an impact on the healthcare providers he advises.
Here are the trends he identified.
1. The continuing growth of EHR
Electronic health record systems are finding their way into even the smallest doctors' offices and healthcare providers. Within a year or so, we'll find almost universal EHR implemented within all facets of the healthcare industry.
The big question will be whether the EHR systems implemented (in some cases in a rush, and always on a budget) are good or not. Healthcare providers will need to take care to do their due diligence in choosing EHR systems, or they may find themselves needing to rip-and-replace a few years down the road.
2. Tablets everywhere
It used to be that your doctor would tell you to take two tablets and call in the morning. Now, if when your doctor is talking about two tablets, she's most likely talking about iOS or Android devices.
In 2013, tablets will be used in more and more healthcare applications. They're small, portable, and relatively cheap. The issues that should concern healthcare providers are security and asset management. Many consumer-grade tablets can't provide the level of security required, so it may be a good idea to look towards vertically integrated Windows 8-based gear for many applications.
3. Pressure to allow BYOD
Bring-your-own-device is a compelling opportunity for both employers and employees. Employees get to use the devices they want and like, and employers get to avoid paying for them.
But while BYOD has numerous challenges in "normal" organizations (including managing the variety of devices and compatibility issues), BYOD can be particularly challenging in healthcare, when HIPAA and HITECH regulations mandate particular care in ensuring that patient records don't leave when employees walk out of the building.
4. Vastly increased cybersecurity threats targeting healthcare
Cybersecurity breaches are now all-too-common, but as the Washington Post reports, health care providers are particularly vulnerable to hackers.
This makes sense from a number of perspectives. First, more and more healthcare providers are entering the IT world because of new government regulations -- and they're less than expert on how to do it. Second, healthcare is a huge industry with a lot of potential value to be stolen and scammed. Beyond that, there are serious patient safety issues, and even the potential for blackmail.
All in all, if cybersecurity doesn't get better in healthcare, we're going to be looking at a very unhealthy situation.
5. App-enabled consumer tech
Mobile devices and smartphones are everywhere. We know this, because whenever we're out, there are legions of human-like creatures walking around, either staring into bright tiny screens, or holding them next to their heads, or seemingly mumbling into thin air.
A visitor from the mid-1990s would be shocked, and think we'd all been implanted by aliens or something, when, in fact, we've instead simply accepted the iPhone as our closest personal friend.
Many consumers are now doing all their Web surfing just on their phones, and many others -- especially in developing countries -- are gaining their first Internet access through the new low-cost smartphones.
But a new trend has started to form: devices that derive their intelligence from smartphones, what are called app-enabled devices. Whether it's a healthcare monitor or a blood-pressure cuff, expect to see more and more of these in 2013. If you're a physician, expect to start getting requests from your patients to directly access and evaluate their app-enabled device reports online.
Onward to 2013
As we look forward to 2013, these are just some of the trends and situations we expect to be encountering. Personally, I'm working on my New Year's resolutions. How about you?