Health information technology is constantly adapting to meet the changing needs of healthcare providers. From a stronger focus on patient satisfaction to greater security of patient data, medical software trends and tools have evolved throughout the years. With continual disruption, it can be difficult to understand which features and tools your healthcare organization will benefit from specifically. Here, we’ll highlight some of the key current and future technology trends in healthcare to keep in mind to help your facility stay ahead of the curve.
Consider the following findings:
- It’s estimated that U.S. hospitals currently average 10 to 15 connected devices per bed, and that number is expected to rise.
- The global adoption for cloud services in healthcare is expected to grow 14% earlier than the next decade, raising the market value to roughly $40 billion by 2026.
- A virtual healthcare approach is helping improve outcomes while reducing costs.
- The cost of a healthcare data breach is over 60% higher compared to other industries, costing organizations nearly $6.5 million on average.
IoT and Medical Devices
Medical devices are pervasive, and when combined with the internet of things, their value can be measured in expedited workflows, improved inventory management and better employee tracking. But as IoT and medical devices like insulin pumps and pacemakers become more interconnected with computers and networks, they represent significant security risks for patients and providers alike.
Throughout recent years, the use of multiple IoT and medical devices has become the standard for many health facilities, with the number of connected devices growing. Also growing is the market for such devices; estimates vary, with one report saying that the global IoT healthcare market is projected to grow to an astonishing $534.3 billion by 2025.
However, these devices also pose another issue of their own. According to Sapan Desai, CEO of Surgisphere Corporation, IoT devices, in addition to wearable technology, pose major security issues. As the HCIC Taskforce pointed out, the “attack surface” of the health information system expands when interconnected devices, such as mobile devices, medical devices and applications, are permitted to connect to EHRs. This leaves your facility at greater risk the more devices that are connected.
Additionally, IoT botnets pose a new set of security challenges. An IoT botnet is a group of hacked computers, smart appliances and Internet-connected devices that have been co-opted for illegal purposes. Connected smart devices can be infected with malware and controlled remotely. Anything, including hospitals security cameras, can be used as a botnet to initiate a denial of service attack and shut down the network.
Increased Use of The Cloud
According to a HIMSS Analytics Survey, over 84% of healthcare organizations are already using cloud technology. The migration from on-premise-based storage to the cloud or hybrid model continues to gain market acceptance, and data needs are demanding it.
Larger health facilities and hospital systems with multiple locations or departments are preferring cloud-based solutions as opposed to on-premise based. Part of this is due to the ability for physicians to quickly and easily access up-to-date information, and a lot of it.
While cloud-based solutions may be more popular in general, they do worry some companies concerned with security threats. On-premise systems may prevent online threats more thoroughly, but many cloud-based solutions have started to protect their data with more effective and secure encryptions.
Here’s the key for those inclined to stick with an on-premise-based solution: as Finn explains, “The cloud is not inherently insecure, but it’s a different kind of security. Make sure there is redundancy, and your security is in place before you upload the data. Otherwise, it’s too late; you’ve already moved your data to the cloud.”
Advances In Virtual Care
Virtual healthcare offerings, telehealth, and remote patient monitoring offer a number of benefits to both patients and physicians. Virtual care has become increasingly popular due to efforts to provide the least-expensive care in the most effective possible setting. Another reason has to do with reimbursement initiatives and the regulation of such tools.
As with everything else in our lives, the demand for healthcare is becoming increasingly shaped by mobility. Patients want the same access to healthcare that they have for everything else in their daily lives. While some providers may not have embraced this more-recent trend, that won’t stop connected devices and on-demand care from becoming increasingly more mainstream.
More recently, patients have started to view themselves as healthcare consumers. They want technology like patient-care portals that provide immediate results, direct access to their providers, and the ability to handle payments and manage appointments online.
Smartphones are starting to be used not only in health facilities, but classrooms as well. While technology is changing the way patients interact with their providers and make decisions, it’s also affecting the way health professionals are being trained and educated. This allows students to share information with one another in real time, preparing them for the technology they’ll be using once they’re in the job.
The line is blurring between consumer health wearables and medical devices. Related to mobile devices is the exploding demand for wearable devices, like Fitbits. Projections vary, but the worldwide revenue of wearable medical devices is estimated to be worth a market value of anywhere from $30–90 billion by the year 2025.
One problem with wearables is that security risks and privacy concerns arise when insecure data is transferred over networks and when third parties store the information on their databases. As Desai mentions, “Many manufacturers have not done a great job securing these devices, and they represent points of entry into an otherwise secure network.”
John Nosta, president of NostaLab, also expressed concern regarding the nature of data involved with these wearable devices. “Advanced technology and analytics no longer just track steps. Today, very personal aspects of our lives, such as clinical conditions that can include cancer, mental illness and acute illnesses, are the domain of digital technology,” says Nosta. He went on to mention how this specifically poses vulnerability to highly-sensitive and confidential information.
Let’s start at the source: data. Its value has never been higher, even as it continues to grow exponentially. Ironically, the healthcare profession was slow to embrace digitization of data. Now, its data volume is growing at a faster rate than manufacturing, financial services and media industries. Healthcare data is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 36% through the year 2025.
With this rapid growth in data, systems have to be able to store it all securely. According to Nosta, one of the biggest health IT trends has to do with blockchain technology. This allows for more digital information to be stored while taking up far less space in the process. Nosta notes, “Blockchain can also provide a new level of consumer empowerment by more direct and powerful control of data.”
The demand for healthcare data will only increase with the advent of value-based care, predictive analytics and AI. Providers are starting to recognize the potential of applying artificial intelligence to the patient information collected through various electronic records systems. The end goal is to help physicians with their decision-making, reduce financial risk, chronic disease management and more.
Dangers to Data
Data breaches will continue to challenge the healthcare field, but as health IT and security expert David Finn of CynergisTek stated: “It’s less about selling data and more about disruption.”
In fact, the size of breaches have declined, but their number has increased over all industries. Through very targeted phishing attacks and social engineering, bad actors have been able to gain access to network data, compromise security and hold healthcare providers hostage.
Unlike in the past, however, the value of the data (patients’ addresses, social security numbers, credit cards, health insurance information and health records) has declined because so much is already out there on the dark web. A popular tactic now is to hijack your data and get you to pay ransom for its return, rather than selling it to a third party.
With the fight against ransomware becoming a top priority, the HCIC Task Force concluded that healthcare professionals “will need to take a more holistic view toward mitigating risk across the entire infrastructure. This demands a systematic approach for understanding, modeling and reducing risk, and compromising at multiple points in the infrastructure used to deliver care.”
Providers need to make data governance a core component of their IT security strategy. As Finn reinforced: “Think of data as a flow — how you get it, who uses it once it’s inside, who can access it at one point and what role do they have to be in.”
You also need to appreciate that health IT security is getting more specialized. Even though cardiologists and dermatologists both have MD after their name, you wouldn’t turn to the dermatologist for chest pain. Similarly, your IT team must possess the right skills for different security requirements.
Whether you’re a small two-person practice or a large multi-hospital system, staying on top of health IT security and privacy will only grow more challenging given the nature of the threat and size of the problem. It’s unfamiliar territory for a profession where treating patients, not protecting data, has been the top priority.
Health IT trends are constantly changing to meet the needs of healthcare organizations and providers. While these trends may pose certain concerns to security and patient privacy, it has also helped lead to greater opportunities to treat healthcare security more holistically while increasing the level of security at the same time. The end result will be better ways to manage data in our efforts to improve patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs.
Health IT trends are helping organizations become more agile with their operations and increase their revenue and quality of care in the process. While you shouldn’t be afraid of these growing technologies, it’s important to not ignore the trends coming and to be prepared to take advantage of them as best you can. Facilities who ignore these trends will end up falling behind in the long run.