Celebrating 2017’s National HIT Week

by Tom Mitchell, TN HIMSS VP of Marketing/Board Member

For more than 2,500 years, the Hippocratic Oath has stood the test of time in establishing the ethical and purposeful principles of medicine and its practitioners. Those principles still ring true today, even as medicine has evolved and has new focuses, driving healthier populations and research.

As ancient as the Hippocratic Oath and the evolution of medicine, so have been the tools used by its practitioners. What were once called “tools” by the “physicians” of the time of Hippocrates can now be referred to as technology. While the scalpel and stethoscope still play a role in medicine, technology is the underpinning for almost all care delivery and management in today’s medical world. From the surgical suite to the administrative side of healthcare to the research that guides medical practice, technology has far-reaching impacts and real implications for patient care and survivability for physician practices and hospitals.

It’s that belief in technology as the enabler of healthcare is why HIMSS established National Health IT Week. From October 2 – 6, HIMSS NHIT Week brings focus to healthcare technology through weeklong awareness and activities focusing on the value of Health IT. This year’s NHIT Week Points of Engagement are centered on:

  • Supporting Healthcare Transformation:The many ways in which Health IT is driving transformation in healthcare delivery including improvements in quality and safety, interoperability, advances in innovation, and patient and consumer activation and engagement.
  • Expanding Access to High Quality Healthcare:Use of innovative technologies including telehealth and remote patient monitoring to improve healthcare access, coordination and outcomes.
  • Increasing Economic Opportunity:Highlighting the importance of a robust, diverse Health IT workforce and Health IT’s role in supporting economic growth.
  • Making Communities Healthier:The fundamental role Health IT plays in supporting population and public health.

With Meaningful Use, data analytics and innovation as the center pieces, Health IT has been brought to the forefront, not just for healthcare providers and developers of technology, but for the American public. As a population, we have more access to our healthcare records than ever before with patient portals, healthcare providers have access to vast amounts of data that can drive healthier populations and researchers can look beyond the laboratory for vital information that drives life-saving research.

Consider these facts from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC):

  • As of 2016, over 95% of hospitals eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program have achieved Meaningful Use of Certified Health IT.
  • As of the end of 2016, over 60 percent of all U.S. office-based physicians (MD/DO) have demonstrated meaningful use of certified health. Over 20 percent of nurse practitioners (NPs) and two percent of physician assistants (PAs) have demonstrated Meaningful Use of Certified Health IT.
  • As of July 2017, 186 certified Health IT developers supply Certified Health IT to the 4,520 non-federal acute care hospitals, including Critical Access hospitals, participating in the Medicare EHR Incentive Program. Of those 4,520 hospitals, 96% have 2014 certified edition technology.
  • In 2015, 64% of physicians had an electronic health record (EHR) with the capability to exchange secure messages with patients, 63% of physicians had the capability for their patients to electronically view their medical record, 41% had the capability for patients to download their medical record, and 19% had the capability for patients to electronically send (transmit) their medical record to a third party.

Although the program is officially less than 10 years old, it has supported new healthcare regulations and incentives from the government. This leads to better care and quality for patients. However, even with this progress, challenges remain with interoperability, data liquidity and patient-centered health. More needs to be done to ensure that health information is accessible by providers and patients when and where they need it. This requires deep collaboration across IT vendors and their platforms, providers and healthcare organizations.

While the adoption rates of new technologies have been hailed as a success, cybersecurity vulnerability has been the Achilles heel. Threats like ransomware continue to escalate and are important for health technology professionals to address in order to provide safe, secure transactions and storage of health information. In its September 2017 Threats Report, McAfee Labs reported that healthcare had the greatest number of security incidents in Q2 of this year with 26% of the overall incidents. Healthcare IT professionals have a responsibility to stay at the forefront of the war on cybersecurity for protection of patient records, data and patient safety.

What about the economic impact of Health IT? Its impact on the economy is quite impressive and a “bright spot”, according to a recent study by HIMSS in the 2017 HIMSS Leadership and Workforce Survey. There is tremendous demand for skilled and talented Health IT professionals in not only managing day-to-day infrastructure and needs, but in supporting highly strategic initiatives by both healthcare providers and vendors. At the time of the report, at least 61 percent of vendors and 43 percent of providers have IT positions to be filled.

According to a recent report by the Brookings Institution, the HIT sector has grown faster than the overall U.S. economy from 2010-2014, even surpassing the more traditional healthcare services and provider sectors. The same report showed that HIT accounted for 106,000 jobs and a nearly $12.6 billion economic output for Nashville alone, driving more than 10 percent of employment in the area.

Health IT is showing no signs of slowing down and is growing as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the HIMSS survey respondents claim that they are adding to their IT staffs. And 56 percent of providers and 87 percent of vendors have increased their IT budgets in 2017. There are opportunities for talented, skilled Health IT workers in a market that continues to expand and innovate.

Innovation with application is vital to the evolution of Health IT – breaking down barriers to growth and thinking beyond the traditional methods of healthcare. Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtualized medicine are all in their infancy and may be commonplace soon, but not without case studies that demonstrate their effectiveness in improving care and meeting the needs of providers and patients. The realities needed today such as interoperability continue to need focus and an infusion of new ideas.

Where innovation is most successful is at the ground floor, by providers that look outside of their four walls and foster invention of not only technology, but processes where technology can be leveraged for maximized care delivery and improvements in quality outcomes. Investors, developers and healthcare associations are also key in fostering innovation across the spectrum of care, helping to bridge the gap of what providers lack for resources — cross-functionalizing and commercializing new ideas.

Without innovation, technology will only accomplish the basics of what it was designed to do. Without the insight of healthcare providers, technology will not achieve its aim of enhancing care, increasing efficiency and improving the business of healthcare. If the industry doesn’t remain true to the promise of the Hippocratic Oath, then the best Health IT has to offer is all for naught.

Join the TN HIMSS chapter during National Health IT Week in celebrating true advancement of healthcare and innovating the way in which it’s delivered.