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The HIMSS 2018 conference revealed key trends and emerging technologies which are influencing the digital healthcare industry and include: advancing the patient experience, cloud computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence and blockchain. And they aren’t just promising technologies; they are being used in clinics and medical organizations today. We collected the most interesting examples of healthcare IT trends in 2018.

Patients go digital

OhioHealth’s new digital team has launched new technical solutions focused on reducing some of the frustration with doctor visits. The local healthcare system has overhauled their website, launched an app, and released an Alexa skill. OhioHealth is actively seeking new talent and prepared to invest in emerging technologies with an objective of creating an innovative consumer experience that can compete both on the local level and nationally.

For patients who are seeking an urgent care facility, both the OhioHealth website and their app have a map of locations that displays the real-time waiting period. Patients can identify which of the urgent care facilities closest to them will be able to see them sooner. If transportation is needed, the app has a function that gives patients the option to book an Uber ride that will take them to the urgent care facility they have selected.

The OhioHealth user experience extends beyond their website and app. Alexa users (as well as Echo, Echo Dot, and Google Home users) can access many of the same functions. Saying, “Alexa, start OhioHealth,” will direct patients to nearby locations of OhioHealth urgent care centers as well as providing the contact details and wait times for each location.

ohio health

But patient experience is not just about easy-to-access information services and user-friendly interfaces. Some medical organizations are making their services consumer-friendly by transforming their interaction with patients into a game. Gamification is also a key element of motivational systems designed to inspire behavior change in healthcare.

Retail-style chronic disease management programs are not only empowering for patients; they also support a positive and empathic patient experience. Community Health Choice, a Texas-based healthcare company, started a diabetes management program. Using NovuHealth, a technology vendor that uses a points-earning retail model for chronic care management, Community Health Choice has been able to promote wellness and self-care within their diabetic population.

The tool allows patients to earn points for completing certain wellness behaviors. When patients successfully measure their sugar levels or meet other key diabetes management benchmarks, they will earn points. Once they meet a certain level of points, they will earn a gift card that can be used at various retail locations in the community, such as a Walmart or a CVS. The beauty of the program is that patients can use those gift cards to purchase medical tools that will help them with their at-home chronic care management.

Jamf research reports that 90% of hospitals are implementing or considering a mobile device initiative. Hospitals that have digitized health services are increasingly worried about the safety of patient medical records and a hospital's ability to function without these systems in case of emergency.

In addition, Amazon launched a challenge for developers on the Alexa platform. They should create solutions for the use of a voice assistant in healthcare, which points to the fact that soon digital services will become a major part of a health organizations’ front-office.

Data in the cloud

When speaking at the HIMSS 2018 conference, Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google, now owner of Alphabet cloud hosting, told HIMSS 2018 attendees that cloud hosting is safer and has significant advantages, while also raising the operational effectiveness of organizations.

Google is teaming up with the American Medical Association to develop a plan for inspiring start-ups to come up with the "best new ideas for fostering data sharing from health monitoring devices." Ideas might include developing a mobile app or designing a wearable device that make it easier for patients with chronic diseases to share data with their doctor. The three best ideas submitted will be awarded a combined $50,000 in Google Cloud credit.

Netsmart recently announced the launch of my Unity, its new cloud-based EHR system designed specifically for use by home health and senior living care providers. The platform was launched by the behavioral health EHR vendor to support home health and long-term post-acute care (LTPAC).

Mercy Technology Services recently announced it has launched a new healthcare cloud service specifically designed to meet the requirements of the heavily-regulated healthcare market. IT execs at the St. Louis-based Mercy said cloud hosting offers a level of efficiency, flexibility and cost-effectiveness that make it a clear choice over infrastructure-heavy enterprise data centers. In addition to providing the cloud infrastructure for hosting mission-critical apps like the EHR and imaging, business-essential systems like email, file shares or any other healthcare workload will also be included.

Artificial intelligence is the doctor of the future

Federal spending on health care is expected to increase dramatically during the next seven years. A report by Deltek projects federal health spending will increase by 80 percent over 10 years, surging from $918 billion in 2015 to $1.65 trillion by 2025. Health IT is a continuously evolving marketplace and the industry is being revolutionized by disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, big data, robotics and 3-D printing.

One example of the use of artificial intelligence is in Clinical Trial Matching at Mayo Clinic. Working with IBM Watson they have seen an 80 percent jump in enrollment of breast cancer patients for clinical trials. The system collects insights from lab results, doctor notes and other data to create a ranked list of trials that a patient might be eligible for and makes it available to clinicians. This is a dramatic improvement from previous patient matching efforts, which required clinicians to manually review patient information to determine whether it lined up with the upcoming clinical trial.

Here’s another example. Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies are helping Apollo Hospitals predict and recommend preventive steps for cardiac diseases – with extreme accuracy. It’s been reported that almost three million heart attacks happen every year in India and 30 million Indians suffer from coronary diseases. With Microsoft's AI Network for Healthcare, Apollo Hospitals can now develop an Indian-specific heart risk score by applying ML and AI to cardio-vascular health records.

Microsoft Cardio AI Apollo Hospitals 1280

The use of artificial intelligence in healthcare will only continue to rise. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the use of IDx-DR technology, which uses artificial intelligence tools to screen for a greater-than-mild level of retinopathy in adults with diabetes. The agency has approved use of the device by healthcare providers such as primary care doctors and those in community health clinics who may not have experience in eye care.

But artificial intelligence is not just only for diagnostic procedures. Experts believe that AI and machine learning could be used to help reduce healthcare administrative costs. Just under half the health care expenditures in the U.S. – close to 18 percent of its GDP or $9,400 per capita, are allocated to planning, regulating, and managing medical services at the administrative level. Industry experts believe this amount of spend can be reduced significantly with artificial intelligence.   

One area in particular is that of evidence-based medicine, which is the practice of making treatment decisions based on observations that come from clinical studies of populations. One example is work performed by Permanente Medical Group’s Division of Research. They used AI algorithms and data collected from 650,000 hospitalized patients to create a predictive model that could identify which hospitalized patients are most likely to end up in the ICU. While this approach helps reduce the costs of repeat hospitalizations and releasing at-risk patients early, more importantly it also saves numerous lives each year.

Medical blockchain

Blockchain rules everywhere and healthcare is also feeling its influence. Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems are a beautiful polygon for blockchain experiments.

When Electronic Health Records are comprehensive, doctors have fast, reliable and secure access to patient medical histories, prescription records and past test results. Simply put, hundreds of thousands deaths from heart attack, stroke and cancer could be prevented each year if patients had access to the level of high-quality care made possible when comprehensive patient data is stored in EHR systems.

To avoid medical errors and improve quality outcomes, all physicians should have access to patient medical information, provided that information is kept private and secure. Blockchain technology can facilitate these requirements.

And it’s not only the US government that thinks so. Margot James, minister for Digital and the Creative Industries and Lord James O’Shaughnessy, parliamentary undersecretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care have signed EU declarations on behalf of the UK Government for artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and e-health.

A Declaration on European Partnership on Blockchain was signed by 22 European countries, including the UK. These countries agreed to collaborate on establishing a partnership with the objective of developing a blockchain infrastructure that will enhance value-based, trusted, user-centric digital services across borders within the Digital Single Market.

Several major healthcare companies are exploring how the use of blockchain technology can improve the way healthcare provider data is shared and managed. The partnership follows a separate effort announced by Amazon, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway  and JPMorgan Chase "to address health care for their U.S. employees, with the aim of improving employee satisfaction and reducing costs."

Healthcare payers - Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Optum - have joined forces with lab testing firm Quest Diagnostics and cost-management specialist MultiPlan to pilot the use of blockchain to “improve data quality and lower administrative costs.” The overall aim is to make healthcare provider demographic data such as health records more accurate and reliable - and help reduce errors with an estimated annual cost of $2.1B.

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