HIMSS 2019 recap: What the future of the healthcare industry looks like

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Right before this year’s annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced new regulations around interoperability. The goal of the new rule was straightforward: Let patients have control over their electronic health records.

This set the stage for things to come.

HIMSS 2019 brought together over 45,000 global health information and technology professionals around a simple question: How do we make life easier for the patient? While using technology to improve patient care was a focal point of the conference, it was hardly the only highlight.

Here’s a look at my key takeaways from HIMSS 2019.

Transparency and autonomy in healthcare take hold

Until recently, most patients had little idea what healthcare procedures cost.

That changed on Jan. 1, 2019. Now hospitals must publicly list the prices for various procedures. Patients will ask payers and providers for cost comparisons, seeking the good, better, best options available.  With price transparency and more autonomy, patients could put an end to surprise hospital bills.

Increasing transparency isn’t limited to costs; it also involves letting patients access their electronic health records. During his keynote speech, Roger Severino, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), announced the OCR would be responsible for defending these rights, which could push hospitals to give patients real-time updates, portals to their medical records, and other previously unseen access. That makes it easier for patients to share their medical history with their multiple doctors and take control of their healthcare.

Healthcare is doubling down on cloud adoption 

Healthcare has dramatically shifted its view on cloud adoption. Many healthcare organizations previously only put legacy, non-critical applications in the cloud for fear of HIPAA violations or the public embarrassment of a data leak. Now, more and more are embracing the cloud: 77 percent of healthcare organizations are adopting a public-cloud strategy and 55 percent are putting patient records into the cloud.

That’s because on-premises data centers are becoming prohibitively expensive as the volume of patient data grows. The cloud model has less overhead, so the more you push into the cloud, the lower the cost of managing that storage on a daily basis, and the more the cloud makes sense as healthcare data balloons.

Healthcare organizations want an optimal cloud strategy, and as long as they address security concerns, this is the direction the industry is heading.

New players are entering the healthcare market

Tech giants like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are placing heavy investments in healthcare and health technology.

Apple is focused on devices and has placed a lot of resources in its health applications and wearable devices. It’s also taking a hard look at how patients share their records with the synchronization of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft see the monetary value in the shift to the cloud for healthcare data, as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure all reap the rewards.

Whether it’s through third-party partnerships, creating quicker patient engagement, or offering better analytics, these large tech companies believe they can help patients take more control over their own healthcare.

Other important themes and topics from the conference

  • Power of telehealth and telemedicine. Hospital costs are skyrocketing. Telehealth and telemedicine can help with that. Using technology to connect doctors and patients virtually will save time, money, and resources, ensuring that patients only visit the hospital for critical needs. This will reduce medical costs while also offering better patient outcomes.
  • Improving patient care through technology. Proper training and protocol prior to discharge can lower readmission rates, tablets can assist the newly discharged, and smart medicine bottles can notify doctors when the pills have been taken. These are just a few of the ways technology can improve patient care.
  • Push for wearable devices, yet doctors don’t know what to do with the information. Despite all of the advances in IoT, the healthcare industry has concerns about the quality of the data. We need standards and regulations in IoT before the industry can take full advantage of these devices.
  • Virtual reality is coming. Whether used for patient engagement as a calming distraction during procedures or for doctors and nurses to simulate situations like surgeries, virtual reality can play a much bigger role in healthcare. We’ve barely scratched the surface.
  • Printer security arrives. Printers are becoming the mobile phone of the healthcare industry, with a number of apps aimed at securing printouts with single sign-on, biometrics, and other controls that keep patient information safe.

It’s clear that consumers are becoming more of a focal point in healthcare, but are they ready to embrace the changes healthcare leaders are proposing? On the other side, healthcare institutions will have to keep up with the rising implementation costs of these foundational changes for the industry, often with limited resources and support.

The healthcare industry needs to do a better job of implementing changes. It must communicate regulations to all healthcare entities, suppliers, and consumers more effectively. And ultimately, they’re going to need partners to make it happen.