In the three years since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed rapid adoption of telehealth services, advancements in digital health tools and data interoperability between electronic healthcare records (EHR) systems. The result is a significant expansion of telemedicine and other remote care services. It also spurred the development of new technologies and approaches to remote care. In some cases, emergent circumstances drove innovative developments. In the U.S., that progress dovetailed with the rollout of new data interoperability regulations and standards.
Healthcare can be more complex than other industries, making it difficult to capture trends in a simple list. There are multifaceted issues with many factors at play. It is a major contributor to the economy and regulated by complex rules and legislation.
Society as a whole and local and federal governments have been unwilling to take on issues in healthcare that threaten the status quo. Some of the seeming low-hanging fruit as it relates to correcting the most obvious, divisive and contentious issues intertwine with broader political and social issues, such as access to care, affordability, and the role of government in healthcare.
Many tech innovation champions and companies are ready to step in and make those leaps. Interoperability legislation levels the playing field for them. Yet, traditional healthcare companies continue with data-blocking strategies that make healthcare integration and data too complex.
For instance, the United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standards provide a terrific and predictable base for innovation. It is common for traditional vendors to still purposefully share data in a way that cannot be classified in a third-party Substitutable Medical Applications and Reusable Technologies (SMART) on FHIR app or feature. This issue is not apparent to legislators and governing bodies unless innovators report the challenges with deeper layers of interoperability challenges and the regulations are tightened – which can take six months to a year. So, the third-party app has very little to work with to organize the data in a consumer/user-friendly way.
Emergence of three trends
That said, three healthcare trends are likely to emerge in 2023 that reflect the growing sophistication of advancements in healthcare tech that are an outgrowth of that confluence.
Infusing health data with meaning to inform AI-assisted diagnoses
The adoption of EHR systems is nearly universal across care providers in the U.S. Each patient’s record holds a treasure trove of data from a variety of clinical sources. A RBC Capital Market report estimates that a single patient generates 80 megabytes of imaging and EMR data every year. By 2025, the compound annual growth rate of healthcare data will reach 36%.
All that data is only useful if it’s possible to extract meaning from the collected information. Interoperability has opened up what’s possible in a healthcare ecosystem that readily shares data between caregivers.
Going forward, data analysis tools enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) will begin to aid physicians in making diagnoses by identifying patterns based on aggregated public health data. The key in 2023 is ensuring that EHRs have access to both a comprehensive view of a single patient’s data and significant public health data. AI tools must be able to extract needed data automatically.
Compliance with interoperability requirements becomes more refined
A key piece of legislation is the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes provisions related to healthcare data interoperability and sharing of EHRs, FHIR standards from Health Level Seven (HL7), and the looming Transparency in Coverage rules. It applies to all members of the healthcare ecosystem, including providers, payers, EHR vendors and health tech vendors. The Act aims to improve interoperability and the sharing among healthcare providers and includes provisions that require the development of national standards and the establishment of a national data sharing network. However, the Act also allows states to continue implementing their own regulations, which can sometimes conflict with HIPAA or create additional requirements for payers and providers.
Over the next 12 months, organizations will focus on how to comply with the requirements and access outside resources with expertise in aligning datasets with FHIR standards and designing optimal architectural approaches that integrate with the ecosystem without extensive customizations. It is one way to ensure a shortened timeline and reduced total costs. A botched data project can sink an organization and, in the end, cost a corporation three times what it should or more.
Other tools, such as the recently released Mobile Health Apps Tool from the Federal Trade Commission, helps mobile app developers figure out applicable federal regulatory, privacy and security laws and regulations.
Broader ecosystem of at-home connected health devices drives physician and consumer adoption
A recent survey by the American Medical Association reveals that physicians are increasingly optimistic about using digital health tools as part of patient care. The survey found that the average number of tools used by physicians grew to 3.8 in 2022, up from 2.2 in 2016.
As physicians grow more comfortable with emerging technology, the use of devices traditionally found only in a hospital setting is likely to expand to inpatient and at-home settings. Consumers are already comfortable with the collection of data from personal smart devices such as smartwatches, heart rate monitors and other wearables and as innovations advance add on smart scales, breathing monitors in mattresses, bed sheets, blood pressure cuffs and more. In 2023, we’ll likely see the rollout of other medtech devices that deliver data to care providers and EHRs, such as smart beds, IV pumps and other monitors of expanded longitudinal vitals.
In addition, consumers will begin to subscribe to services offered by new entrants into the healthcare ecosystem that will analyze the data collected by the smart devices to manage medications, preventative care and wellness programs. Companies such as Walgreens Health and CVS have stated plans to participate more actively in providing care options for consumers.
The Cumulative Effect
As these trends come to fruition, newfound data transparency and analysis capabilities will result in expanded patient-centric care models. Just as consumers have become accustomed to using digital tools to manage their personal finances and online purchases, they will now have greater access to tools and services to guide their preventative, acute and wellness decisions.
The hope is that with more meaningful information available across the healthcare ecosystem, individuals will be more active participants in partnering with clinicians in driving positive health outcomes.
About the Author
Shawna Koch Mishael is the Head of Healthcare & Biomedical for SenecaGlobal, a global leader in software development, managed services and technical advisory services, with a dedicated Healthcare and Biomedical Practice committed to helping small and mid-sized companies drive innovation in HealthTech.