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What's hindering healthcare IT innovation (and how that can change)

Brian Eastwood | Nov. 12, 2013
No one disputes the healthcare industry's need to apply technology to the patient care process -- or difficulty of doing it. In that vein, the recent Center for Connected Health Symposium examined innovations that could change care delivery as well as the drivers that will help the industry get there.

Healthcare IT leaders struggle with the tug of war that is addressing clear and present dangers such as meaningful use, the ICD-10 conversion, security, data exchange and interoperability while also identifying future needs. Focusing on the former is understandable, especially when looming deadlines promise financial penalties for noncompliance, but doing so at the expense of the latter can stifle innovation.

This year's Center for Connected Health Symposium, presented by the Boston-based Partners HealthCare system, aimed to place today's healthcare challenges in the context of the innovations that will drive change. Here are four trends that will shape future advances in healthcare - and what will catalyze these and other advances in years to come.

1. Data Analytics: Improved Population Health Management
Analytics, to no one's surprise, ranks highly among healthcare innovations with the most untapped potential. Big data use cases for healthcare continue to emerge, but many organizations remained mired in more traditional analytics practices. In these instances, it can take months to conduct an analysis, says Michael Greeley, founder and general partner with Flybridge Capital Partners; by then, the "window to intervene" has long since shut.

Greeley and other venture capitalists on a panel at the symposium suggest that analytics is where healthcare should be investing. Organizations struggle to add information and analytics to the "necessary set of data" provided by electronic health record (EHR) systems, says Dr. Lee Wrubel, general partner with Foundation Medical Partners. As healthcare continues to move to the risk-based, accountable care model, though, and as larger providers acquire smaller practices, this "dramatic culture change" will force organizations to take analytics seriously.

"Data are an absolute, total mess and hard to clean up without a lot of human intervention," says Bill Geary, partner with North Bridge Venture Partners, "but the fact is, you have to do it if you want to deliver population health insights."

While some suggest that technology itself is the culprit here, that "smells like opportunity" to Dr. Andrew Firlik, also of Foundation Medical Partners. Yes, stakeholders and technology remain disconnected in healthcare, but that was also the case in the Internet's early days. The key is "unlocking the power of all that's there," he says, and the growing consumerization of technology movement will aid in this effort.

As that movement grows, patients stand to gain greater understanding of their personal health and to improve the relationship with their doctors (who, thanks to abundant data, would know more about them). But this can only happen, says Dr. Leslie Saxon, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, if patients get continuous access to their data. There's no reason why a patient with a pacemaker can't access and interact with that device's data through a smartphone app, she suggests.


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