Like any business, healthcare providers are increasingly relying on information technology to streamline operations, reduce operating costs, and increase profits. IT projects deliver value by improving efficiency, allowing administrators to access and manage business-critical data that keeps the operation running smoothly. However, healthcare providers also use IT for critical patient care and applications beyond simply improving efficiency. Unlike other businesses, hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, and pharmacists have to be concerned about patient security and patient data accuracy. Maintaining efficient, accurate computing can literally be a matter of life or death.
Because of the value of computing in patient care, pending on healthcare IT projects continues to climb. Healthcare providers spend more than $40 billion each year on IT projects; clinical healthcare IT alone spent $15.6 billion in 2014, and federal spending on healthcare IT projects is expected to exceed $4.8 billion by 2019. Analysts predict that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for healthcare IT projects will be from 4.80 to 6.01 percent between now and 2019. Much of that spending will be on cloud computing strategies (21.95 percent) and analytics; the healthcare market for big data alone is expected to grow 42 percent by 2019.
So what healthcare IT projects are healthcare providers most concerned about? Here are just a few of the IT projects that seem to top everyone’s list:
1. Integrated EHRsElectronic health records (EHRs) provide an ongoing digital record of patient care. The U.S. government now requires EHRs for all healthcare providers that want to receive Medicare payments so the adoption rate of EHRs has escalated. By the end of 2014, 83 percent of office-based physicians had some form of electronic patient record keeping in place. Not only are EHRs required by the government, but they improve overall patient care. Maintaining electronic records makes it easier to share consistent patient information and maintain a single data repository with a comprehensive health history. To make the most of EHRs, medical practices are developing strategies to provide integrated access to EHRs from a secure, central data repository so doctors, nurses, pharmacists, insurance companies, and others can access the same patient records from their own computing platform.
2. Cloud Computing StrategiesMigration to EHRs is creating new computing challenges for healthcare providers, including the demand for expanding data storage and the ability to easily share patient records. Cloud computing is the logical approach. The cloud is elastic, so as the number of patient records expand so does the storage capacity, without having to add physical hardware. The cloud also can be readily accessible from any Internet-enabled location. However, setting up a secure cloud data repository has its own challenges, including choosing the right provider with the right capabilities, and determining how to best integrate cloud resources as part of the enterprise network.
3. Data SecurityOne of the biggest concerns all healthcare providers share is data security. HIPAA compliance requires that private information patient records be secured from theft or unauthorized access. Failure to comply with HIPAA data security can result in fines ranging from $100 per violation up to $1.5 million per year. To ensure HIPAA compliance, healthcare providers are working on new authentication and data encryption strategies to ensure EHRs and other data is secure, whether it’s data in transit over the network or data stored on a server or in the cloud.
4. Mobile ComputingHandheld devices have revolutionized healthcare. Now doctors and nurses can access medical records, issue prescriptions, and perform a host of tasks from anywhere using a tablet computer. That means healthcare IT managers need to develop new wireless networking and mobile enterprise strategies. Hospitals need to have secure wireless networks with sufficient broadband capacity to handle hundreds of simultaneous users, including data encryption and other security measures. And as part of HIPAA compliance, the handheld devices themselves need to be carefully managed and secured with Mobile Device Management (MDM) and other strategies so if a handheld device is lost or stolen it won’t pose a security threat.
5. AnalyticsOne of the benefits of applying digitizing hospital records is the data can be analyzed to identify problems or areas that can be improved. Big data is having an increasing impact on healthcare because the insight from big data analysis yields big returns. For example, hospitals are using big data to reduce patient readmissions, using analytics to identify early symptoms for heart disease and other ailments. Hospitals also are using analytics to manage staffing, control pharmaceutical storage, and for a host of other applications that result in more efficient operations.
With the ongoing advances in healthcare computing it’s difficult for healthcare IT professionals to keep pace. Along with new applications and new infrastructure requirements come new best practices and new concerns about regulatory compliance. HIT professionals are increasingly looking to outside experts like NSI to guide them with regard to data center design, cloud computing sourcing, virtualization, secure data storage, wireless strategies, and other strategies. It’s difficult for any healthcare IT professional to keep abreast of all the latest tools and techniques, which is why NSI is here to help.