It’s hard to believe that the mandate for healthcare to adopt Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems was signed ten years ago. Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) required that public and private healthcare providers and eligible professional show “meaningful use” of EMRs by the start of 2014.
The requirements of the ARRA helped to usher in a new era of technology for the medical field in some important ways. It would be naive, of course, to assume that this Act was the catalyst for the use of technology in healthcare.
But it’s pretty clear as we look at the healthcare trends for the near future that EMRs opened the door to some significant and surprising advancements, while at the same time uncovering issues in the way things have always been done. Issues that, not surprisingly, technology is coming up with solutions for.
Trend 1: The Realization of the EMR
With their use being mandated more than 5 years ago, it might be surprising to see EMRs show up on a list of healthcare technology trends. It isn’t the systems themselves that are news – it’s the realization of what use of EMRs mean to doctors and patients, and addressing the challenges that no one saw coming.
With electronic medical records in place, doctors are beginning to see the vast benefits available to them on a patient level. Not only are records easy to find in an office, but the costs of storage and management of those records has decreased. More importantly, having instant – and sharable – access to a patient’s entire medical history has improved doctors’ recommendations and patient outcomes. Having a complete view of a patients history, without missing elements that an individual might have forgotten or thought was unimportant, can influence patient care in a positive way.
Unfortunately, in the rush to create systems that doctors could use to meet the requirements of the ARRA, EMRs were developed as closed systems. If a system could share records, frequently it could only be done with other facilities using the same software.
The advancement of integration architecture and microservices has made it possible for doctors to provide information to other providers in a secure way, given the patient’s permission. There is still work to be done, but these integrations may prevent closed systems from hampering the sharing of information and improved patient outcomes.
Trend 2: Breaking Silos with APIs
Closed system EMRs can be a roadblock to sharing data between providers. But some healthcare offices, hospitals, and research centers still experience siloed systems within their organization. Breaking these silos with the use of APIs and integrations is another one of our key healthcare trends.
Various, and frequently older, systems used throughout hospitals and healthcare were never built for data sharing. Unfortunately, these walls between systems, or even between divisions, can result in errors and frustration. Even billing systems for different parts of a hospital may be walled off from one another. For example, patients who see a doctor and are sent for tests might receive two different bills – with no way to reconcile them into a single payment.
Integrating these systems decreases errors while increasing the employee and patient user experience. By using Application Programming Interfaces – or APIs – secure connections can be built once and reused by multiple applications across the healthcare provider’s technology ecosystem, saving time and money.
Trend 3: Patient-Owned Medical Records (thanks to Blockchain)
EMRs were built to be a digital mirror of a doctor’s existing records system. When a patient was referred to a specialist or changed providers, a copy of their records was forwarded on to the new provider.
As HIPPA requirements were standardized, it became apparent to many patients that the control of their records wasn’t in their hands. Laws existed that provided them access to their records, but they weren’t truly in control of them. It was difficult to imagine a change, however, since sharing those records would be cumbersome and challenging for the individual.
Enter blockchain. This immutable and secure means of holding data is perfectly suited to the storage of healthcare information. By storing a patient’s data in a blockchain, the individual is put in control of their data while still providing a complete and accurate picture of a patient’s medical history.
Trend 4: Patient Engagement
Our 4th healthcare trend is more about the patient and less about a specific technology. Patient engagement is a hot topic for healthcare providers and insurers working to keep in touch with and provide tools for patients so that they can be aware of their own health and risks.
Today’s patients are increasingly digitally savvy. They also want the freedom to manage their health in ways that are comfortable and convenient for them. With the use of healthcare portals, apps, and remote patient monitoring, patients can have access to their providers and information in the moment and where they are.
It also offers patients greater awareness of their health and risks, and many solutions are available that encourage individuals to take an active role in their health. Apps with gamification elements allow individuals to track steps, workouts, and health markers while competing against friends and colleagues.
Another trend in patient engagement is telemedicine. Offering patients the ability to meet with a doctor or nurse via a one-on-one video call increases the likelihood that patients will seek out medical advice when needed because the barriers to access are lowered.
Trend 5: Expert Systems & Decision Support
This wouldn’t be a complete list of healthcare technology trends without mentioning artificial intelligence. There are no robotic healthcare workers on the horizon looking to replace doctors and nurses. But advancements in data analysis means that AI is available to help medical professionals make better decisions.
Machine learning – the current component of AI that is most widely available – takes in data and “learns” from it. With available clinical data, machine learning is able to process the information and help suggest a course of action for a doctor, based on a patient’s medical history and symptoms. Clinicians are able to make better, data-driven decisions and deliver better outcomes for their patients as a result.