2018 is proving to be a watershed year for healthcare technology advancement as innovations in IT, medical devices, data analytics, and much more make their mark on the industry.

At Schumacher Clinical Partners, we keep an eye on these trends to maximize their benefit on behalf of our clients, helping them stay competitive in the marketplace.

Among the many technology trends on the horizon, five are particularly worthy of note: FHIR, blockchain, wearables, artificial intelligence, and data analytics.

Let's take a closer look at each.

FHIR

Healthcare records are increasingly becoming digitized. As patients move around the healthcare ecosystem, their records need to be available, discoverable, and understandable universally. The problem, however, is that hospitals and other healthcare providers have different computer systems, all of which should communicate with each other but, often, do not.

To support this demand for interoperability, healthcare IT professionals, software developers, and technology application vendors are focusing their attention on the data standards that will enable this seamless exchange of information.

Enter FHIR.

FHIR (pronounced "fire"), the acronym for “Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resource,” is a draft data standard established by Health Level Seven International, a non-profit organization involved in the development of international healthcare informatics interoperability standards known as Health Level 7 — more often referred to as HL7.

FHIR, a web-based standard, is gaining acceptance as one of the more popular protocols for connecting disparate systems and holds great promise for the development of an application-based approach to interoperability and health information exchange.

Blockchain

As the development of FHIR enables seamless data transfer, another technology, blockchain, is there to secure its transmission.

You are likely familiar with (or at least have heard of) blockchain in relation to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — but that's just the tip of the iceberg: Healthcare industry technologists are giving more credence to blockchain as a new solution for safely storing and transmitting patient data.

Why? Because the information stored in a blockchain-based system cannot be altered or accessed without key codes provided to those who have permission to do so.

Some vendors are already applying blockchain technology to EMR/EHR systems, and major players, such as IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Google, now have separate units dedicated to developing blockchain products, including those for healthcare.

Wearables

Patients are now more involved in managing their health, and wearable technologies are definitely en vogue as a means to bring about improvement.

The variety of these devices is diverse and growing. Some of the more popular include:

  • Fitness trackers;
  • Continuous glucose monitors;
  • Pain management devices;
  • Cardiovascular disease management devices;
  • EEG monitors.

Not only are wearables benefitting patients themselves, but healthcare providers are also using these devices, along with medical grade, FDA approved apps and biosensors, to monitor patient health remotely, measuring vitals like heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep, and more.

As the use of wearables proliferates, additional benefits will evolve, including the ability to gather vast amounts of medically-relevant data that can help improve patient outcomes and address myriad health concerns. 

Artificial Intelligence

2018 has been a banner year for investment in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For the most part, these technologies are being adopted by organizations seeking to increase efficiencies in areas like back-office operations or supply chain management.

But that only scratches the surface of AI’s capabilities: Clinical decision support, patient diagnosis, and complex disease management are among its more sophisticated uses, augmenting the professional skills and personalized care offered by providers. 

Even that does not explain AI’s full potential.

According to HealthITAnalytics, artificial intelligence will enable the next generation of radiology tools, expand access to care in underserved areas, contain the risks of antibiotic resistance, turn EHR into a risk predictor, and more, ushering in a “new era of clinical quality and exciting breakthroughs in patient care.”

Big Data & Predictive Analytics

The healthcare industry has collected vast amounts of patient data for years. But, in 2018 and beyond, these massive quantities of disparate datasets will become better integrated into the clinical workflow, creating new opportunities for hospitals and other health organizations to extract insights that have predictive value.

“Big data” offers the potential to make diagnosis quicker and easier, improve risk scoring for chronic diseases in population health management, lower readmissions, bolster patient engagement and satisfaction, and much more.

Further, the intersection of medical devices, such as wearables, apps, and sensors, with big data, will enable hospitals and providers to offer their patients more personalized, cost-effective care, using therapies and treatment plans specific to them.

Conclusion

Technologies such as FHIR, blockchain, wearables, AI, and big data are transforming the healthcare landscape, benefitting patients and providers alike with improved data interoperability, security, monitoring, diagnostics, and analytics.

By staying abreast of these emerging technological advancements (as well as developing proprietary technologies of our own – to be continued in Part II of our technology series), we enable our clients to bring the future of patient care into the present.

Learn how SCP leverages technology and first-class data to turn insights into action and monitor the impact on patient satisfaction, clinical outcomes, and quality measures.