5 Health IT Trends to Watch in 2017

neilsmiley-200By Neil Smiley, Founder and CEO, Loopback Analytics
Twitter: @loopbackllc

Bundled payments and predictive analytics dominated the health information technology (HIT) landscape for much of 2016. And, while these will continue to be hot topics moving forward, 2017 is shaping up to become the year that providers and payers will effectively leverage these new capabilities to drive substantial clinical and financial improvement.

Exactly how will these technological forces come together? Here are the top 5 health information technology trends to watch – and adopt – in the coming year.

  1. Predictive technology goes mainstream. Between 2011-2014, venture capitalists poured nearly $2 billion into HIT companies with a predictive slant, underscoring its potential to transform health care. Fueled by that capital, this year, we’ll see predictive technologies move from the laboratory into care settings, providing more integrated, action-oriented care management that incorporates feedback and metrics to drive measurable improvements in patient outcome. How? By allowing providers to proactively identify at-risk patient populations and risk factors and take appropriate preventative action.
    • For example, medication incompliance is a serious issue that causes the death of 125,000 Americans annually and adds nearly $300 billion a year to health care costs due to added doctor and emergency department visits and hospitalizations. And, data has proven that gaps in refilling maintenance medications strongly correlates with increased risk of hospital re-admission.
    • Using predictive analytics to identify patients at risk of compliance issues and proactively match them to appropriate interventions—such as bedside delivery of medications prior to discharge, personalized follow-up with a pharmacist or post-discharge clinician, or simply referring them to a pharmacy that delivers—can greatly reduce the risk of noncompliance. With ongoing assessment of each intervention, clinicians can tweak programs and drive continuous improvement in both compliance and patient outcomes.
  2. Interoperability will accelerate. Until recently, establishing interoperability across networks has been a challenge, thwarted by data security concerns, incongruent technical standards and misaligned motivations for participation. However, as the transition to value-based payment models accelerates, interoperability will become a necessity, prompting hospitals and payers to cooperate in driving out unwarranted variability. This will effectively narrow networks and concentrate referral volumes on high-quality, cost-effective providers that agree to share data as part of a cohesive interoperable network.
    • While many hospitals and post-acute care providers are concerned about the financial burden of establishing interoperability, frankly, they may have no choice—it will likely become crucial for their survival. Post-acute providers that meet quality and cost goals will see their investment in both the technology and legal framework to support data sharing offset by higher referral volumes, while those that do not or cannot pursue interoperability will lose referral volumes that could put their business in jeopardy.
  3. Telehealth deployment will grow. The use of telehealth services, especially for Medicare episodes, has been plagued by limited reimbursable post-acute care options by CMS. But, as providers better manage the cost-care equation in bundled payments, new models will emerge enabling effective use of telehealth. For example, using advanced and predictive analytics, providers may identify patients in a bundle that may be better served through a combination of ambulatory or outpatient procedure and targeted in-home intervention over the 90-day episode, supplemented by telehealth interaction with clinicians. This will not only allow for complete and proper billing procedures for telehealth, but also ensure more effective use of providers’ time while improving patient outcomes.
  4. Patient-generated data will fill in gaps. The mainstream appeal of consumer monitoring devices like fitness trackers has paved the way for greater patient comfort for remote medical monitoring technologies while broadened internet and cellular connectivity have made this feasible for patients and providers. In the coming year, we’ll see wider deployment of these solutions, giving clinicians the ability to better direct post-acute care. Something as simple as remotely monitoring heart rate and blood pressure could provide insight into medication tolerances, pain level and other concerns that providers otherwise can’t monitor outside of an office visit.
  5. Care will extend beyond the provider silo. Mental health care has become a prominent issue over the past few years, particularly where it intersects with law enforcement. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20 percent of adult Americans experience a mental health episode each year, and often law enforcement officers are the first responders for individuals in crisis. Most individuals are either jailed or transported to a local ER, neither of which are adequately equipped to deliver proper behavioral health care. After discharge, poor access to quality mental health services often leads to additional ER visits or incarceration—as many as a dozen or more each year—for people who could benefit from longer term, more focused treatment.
    • To help rectify the problem, 2017 will see technology integration expand to include mental health management and high utilizer populations to find alternatives to incarceration. Connected coalitions of criminal justice, homeless shelters, hospitals and mental health providers will provide cross-discipline care based on improved longitudinal visibility. The ability to share data across networked participants, and use predictive analytics and machine learning to best direct scarce resources, will better ensure that “super-utilizers” get the care they actually need, while identifying non-chronic high utilizer candidates for alternative care, such as behavioral telehealth visits.

Health information technology has evolved substantially over the past year, and the industry is now poised to fully put its solutions into action. As we look ahead, 2017 is shaping up to be where the proverbial rubber meets the road with comprehensive provider networks that effectively leverage technology and data sharing to measurably improve both patient and financial outcomes.