What's Ahead for EHR-Related Technology in 2017

With the continual evolution of care quality, practices continuously turn to technology to handle emerging challenges related to patients’ health outcomes, business costs, information storage and data reporting to CMS.

Given all of these developments in tech doesn’t mean we’re moving away from electronic health records, which are somewhat past their media prime but are living on steadily in the care environment.

Since Meaningful Use and the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare industry has been energized with a steady flow of technological advancements and innovations, and as we prepare for 2017, one can’t help but wonder what will face in regard to their EHRs even as other topics strongly emerge, like telemedicine, data mining and data warehouses, health information exchange and security.

We’ve entered the post-EHR era. Not one in which electronic health records will no longer be relevant or newsworthy, of course not; on the contrary. EHRs are foundational now throughout healthcare for obvious reasons, but as practices continue to build their business and technology capabilities their operations will continue to become more complicated, even complex.

“In 2017 and beyond it will be imperative to secure the entire system to insure the EHR system is secure, otherwise hackers could make their way into patients’ medical records by infiltrating an email server, billing system, or even an IoT device,” said Santosh Varughese, co-founder and president Cognetyx.

The sentiment is echoed by Patrick Townsend, founder and CEO of Townsend Security, who points out that those practices storing electronic health records are under increasing pressure to secure the data from unwanted attack and exposure.

“In August of this year it was reported that Advocate Health Care Network agreed to pay more than $5 million to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department for 4-plus million records being breached,” Townsend reported. “With attacks like these becoming more common, most organization's security technology and policies are inadequate to face these challenges.”

His advice: Practices should move aggressively to better secure their EHR data-at-rest.

Some of the largest breaches in history happened in 2016, and ransomware emerged as a powerful enemy of the sector in the last year. These trends are certainly going to continue. But data security isn’t the only addressable issue for the year to come.

Past remnants of issues continue, though, and the past appears hard to defy. In addition to data security, interoperability and information exchange through the EHR, and federal rules and programs are going to take up plenty of time for practice leaders.

“The key challenge for EHRs in 2017 is improving bi-directional interoperability of both structured and unstructured data to improve care coordination,” said Scott Finley, CEO of MaxMD. “Supporting an array of EMRs, EHRs and various HIT applications, we believe the Direct Protocol is a versatile, sustainable and payload-agnostic national HIE standard that enables systems to exchange PHI and care coordination instructions which improves usability for end users.”

Finally, with changes coming to Meaningful Use and the MACRA Quality Payment program there’s likely to be much unsettlement and fatigue in 2017 as practice leaders attempt to deal with these changes. MACRA alone will significantly impact how practices think about EHRs, driving a major reassessment of approaches to EHRs, said Ted Chan, founder and CEO of CareDash.com.

“Reward and punishment payment schemes, including MIPS and the Advanced APM targets, will accelerate the adoption of value-based healthcare metrics and data collection centered around EHRs,” Chan said. “Technology leaders will focus on gaining ROIs from EHRs, rather than viewing them as an expense.

Ultimately, collecting key data and quality metrics in a uniform way allows for greater use of artificial intelligence and powerful analytics in healthcare; channels that have capability to improve value in healthcare service, he added.

No matter where 2017 takes us, the headlines are going to be plenty and much of what is discussed here won’t be all that the sector experiences. As Varughese points out, today’s healthcare facilities have highly complex data environments that extend beyond EHR systems. In addition to patient medical records systems, healthcare organizations may also be running email servers, billing systems, employee records and payroll systems, and other systems that support ancillary functions. Additionally, the explosive growth of Internet of Things (IoT) medical devices and the wide-scale adoption of tablets and other mobile devices means new hardware is being added to the network every day. 

Scott Rupp's picture

Scott Rupp

Contributor

Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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