Guest Blog Written by Jordan Bires, National Healthcare Practice Director
As the calendar turns to the last page of the year, I am once again caught off guard by how fast another year has come and gone. The march towards 2020 is a reason for additional reflection as we come to the close of an old decade and the start of a new one. As I grasp for some way to quantify what the next ten years of healthcare information technology (HIT) may look like, I keep coming back to Moore’s Law of Computing and Processing. Gordon Moore, a prominent executive at Intel in the 70’s and 80’s, hypothesized that the speed and power of computers would double roughly every two years. Moore’s hypothesis has largely held true over the last few decades but the same principle can be applied to HIT in the fact that ten years from now, nothing will look the same as it does today.
If there’s any indication as to how much we can expect the future of healthcare to change, it’s important to look at the revolution the industry has already gone through over the past few decades. In the 70s the name of the game was microfilm and paper records which had been the main storage media of choice. Widely accepted at the time as one of the more advanced, but cost-effective analog methods for storing records, healthcare professionals microfilmed hundreds of thousands of medical records.
Today we live in a digital world where many people of younger generations have never even heard the term “microfilm” or know what a roll looks like. As we prepare for 2020 and beyond, I anxiously await the next evolutions of HIT along with the investments and developments that will continue to renovate the space. Perhaps it’s an overused statement, but we really are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s macro healthcare technology strategy. The alphabet soup of new types of machinery and emerging technology can seem overwhelming to the casual observer, but when you boil it all down, it really is incredibly exciting to see all the advancements coming at us.
Technologies at the Forefront of Healthcare
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Only 50% of hospitals leaders are familiar with artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) but as healthcare becomes increasingly digitized, the way hospitals are managing their data and processes is changing, and fast. Operational and administrative costs across the nation’s health systems total an estimated $1 trillion which is triggering hospital executives to look at new tools, like RPA, to improve efficiency in their organizations, along with reducing costs by automating high-volume and repetitive tasks.
A major health system we work with has pushed RPA functionality to the limit by migrating hundreds of thousands of images from their Chartmaxx Archival to OnBase, creating a bot that could be repurposed in other functional areas and work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When it comes to eliminating manual tasks, RPA is a great tool to streamline tasks that get in the way of the provider caring for the patient.
AI & Machine Learning
Although many healthcare leaders are still unfamiliar with Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) ability and business use cases, questions around this emerging technology keep coming up more and more in customer meetings. In Eric Topol’s latest book, Deep Medicine, the author and healthcare innovator emphasizes that we are living in a 4th Industrial Revolution that is so profound that we can’t compare it to any other prior. Topol extensively reviews AI’s available and future capabilities, some of which I included below:
- Imaging: Leveraging AI neural networks to help radiologists better detect abnormalities in MRI, X-Ray and CT scans. GE Healthcare recently won the first FDA clearance X-ray, which uses AI algorithms to scan X-ray images to detect pneumothorax, reducing the time from eight hours to as little as 15 minutes.
- Pathology: Whole slide imaging and digital technologies (opposed to analog glass slides and microscopes) will enable neural networking image processing to assist pathologists with tissue analysis. AI also helps dermatologists distinguish between benign or malignant skin lesions, reducing biopsy dependency.
- Knowledge Centers: Utilizing Natural-Language Processing (NLP) to ingest unstructured data and translate it into easily filtered medical literature relevant to the doctor. According to Topol, no software has been able to fully achieve this yet (think Watson), but will very soon.
- Patient Care: Aggregating and applying AI to patient data – genetic, labs, medical history, vitals, imaging – helping provide improved preventive care and diagnosis
- Mental Health: AI can help detect early warning signs of depression and other mental illnesses through speech, voice, facial, heart rate, online behavior, and other gestures.
Many skeptics say AI is going to make some healthcare positions obsolete, which is true in some cases, but in reality, this next generation of technology will create more new job roles (that are yet to exist) than takeaway. Also, AI, will not only enable providers to deliver better prognoses and diagnosis but enable health systems to improve care quality, patient engagement and satisfaction by having more time to focus on the patient.
In a world with 2-day free shipping and home delivery services like Amazon Prime, Express Scripts, Door Dash, Instacart, and Postmates, it’s no surprise that Telehealth has sky-rocketed in popularity over the past few years. With the advancements in telecommunications, access to remote healthcare services has never been easier. Well-designed Telehealth platforms can improve care access and outcomes, particularly for chronic disease management and rural populations. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be video chatting my doctor from the comfort of my own home without having to leave bed, I would have said you were crazy. But as we enter into this new decade, Telehealth may be the new normal.
Wearable Devices & Internet of Bodies
The wearable healthcare technology market is surging and it’s estimated that the rate of health-based wearables will grow to $60 billion by 2023. The wide adoption of wearables that track patients’ health stats and behaviors enables healthcare professionals to easily establish patterns to predict potential health problems before they arise, allowing for more effective preventative measures as opposed to more invasive procedures once a diagnosis has been made.
The next phase of patient monitoring is the Internet of Bodies (IoB). IoB links the human body to networks through devices that are ingested or embedded/connected to the human body. In a recent episode of Recode Decode, associate dean of innovation at Penn State Law, Andrea Matwyshyn, discusses some of the below topics.
- Ingestion: Patients ingest a digital pill to monitor the organs and actions that are occurring inside their body. This helps doctors better manage their patients’ health and can even assist elderly patients with medication management by keeping a digital log of their pill intake.
- Embedded/Connected: There are traditional connected devices that have been in the market for some time now like pacemakers or cochlear implants. A more advanced version of this is melded devices. Melded devices link neural networks to an external communication network, extending human computing power outside the brain and giving patients and doctors the ability to remotely control body part functionality. These neural implants can help patients’ with physical diseases like Parkinson’s by implanting chips within the brain. The roadmap for IoB devices includes extending human capabilities through computer connections e.g. directly connecting your brain to Google.
IoB creates a new set of challenges for healthcare security experts and data management professionals from managing a tremendous influx of patient data to 3rd party accessing control of patient organs or brain functions. They are also lives and millions of dollars by allowing doctors to track their patients’ conditions from afar and recognizing symptoms at an early stage for less expensive treatment options.
The evolutions in HIT, include but also beyond those highlighted above, are transforming the way healthcare professionals deliver and think about care. The industry is starting to make an encouraging shift towards preventative health and well-being compared to the outdated mindset of just treating symptoms and diseases once they appear. Given all the new technologies on the horizon (and not forgetting Moore’s Law), is it too presumptuous to think that the 2020s will be a healthier decade due to these advancements? As for me, I have the “audacity to hope” and believe in these concepts, and those that have yet to be discovered, for the promises they hold is for an overall healthier and more convenient future.
To learn more about 2020’s top healthcare trends, register for our four-part live webinar series focused on helping HIM professionals stay up-to-date with the newest applications and technologies to drive their department forward into the new year.