Social media, privacy and security, and health insurance exchanges (HIXs) will be among the top issues in health care in 2012, according to a report by consulting firm PwC's Health Research Institute.
In the report, "Top Health Industry Issues of 2012: Connecting in Uncertainty," PwC suggests that more people are using social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with people to learn more about chronic diseases.
"We believe social media is going to continue to grow, particularly as more people with chronic diseases begin to use the social media channels to be informed about care options to connect with health care organizations," Lindsey Jarrell, principal and co-leader of the electronic health record (EHR) practice at PwC, told eWEEK. "And it's going to play an important role in one aspect of how they manage their care overall."
In a 2011 report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project also found that online posts about specific problems or symptoms, called "feedback loops," motivate Internet users to track their health conditions.
Social media will be an important tool for patient education, Jarrell added.
"We see organizations utilizing social media for patient education, for creating a feeling of connectedness for their patients-simple things like announcements and getting real-time feedback though social media outlets based on patient care experience."
Companies also use social media to keep the public posted on special health care bulletins, such as flu season and allergy counts, Jarrell said.
Meanwhile, concerns about data privacy and security will affect patients' choices of hospitals, according to the report.
"As more data is collected and shared within and across organizations, the efforts to secure the data and ensure patient privacy will become increasingly complicated," Jarrell said.
Of consumers surveyed, 60 percent were comfortable with their personal health information being shared among providers if it would bring greater collaboration in care.
Another area of focus will be health informatics, in which health professionals collect, manage or store data so that it can it bring about positive health outcomes, according to Jarrell.
PwC cites the example of insurer WellPoint using IBM Watson data analytics capabilities to improve doctors' abilities to boost quality of care.
With the focus on being accountable for patient outcomes rather than individual patient visits, physicians will concentrate on the timely capturing of data in a way that will bring improved health outcomes, Jarrell explained.
Still, in 2012 the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which calls for doctors to be reimbursed for health outcomes rather than per visit.
As far as adding new health care IT workers, colleges and universities will build health care IT programs at a rapid pace, Jarrell predicted.
"I see the development of a lot of new medical informatics programs, and this is really helping educate the new workforce coming into the industry," Jarrell said.
Although most health insurance exchanges are currently geared toward small businesses, states will be introducing more online insurance-shopping tools for consumers, PwC reports.
While vendors such as Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle have introduced platforms to support HIXs, getting the technology operational to support these exchanges could be problematic, according to the PwC report, which was released Nov. 16.
"Technology integration with the exchanges could pose challenges, especially as most states have yet to announce their platforms or technology requirements," the PwC report states.