Virtualization, EHR-Linked Devices, m-Health to Lead Health Care IT in 2011: Analysts

By Brian T. Horowitz  |  Posted 2010-12-28

Virtualization, EHR-Linked Devices, m-Health to Lead Health Care IT in 2011: Analysts

As we move into 2011, the Obama administration's meaningful-use requirements governing health care IT and EHRs (electronic health records) will continue to influence how health care companies adopt technology to improve patient care.

In 2010, companies began to purchase EHR applications, but in the coming year health care companies will enter an adoption phase for EHR or EMR (electronic medical record) applications, predicts IDC in an upcoming report.

"While purchasing and selection will continue for many providers, early adopters will begin to struggle with the challenges of implementation and adoption of EMRs in 2011," wrote IDC analysts Judy Hanover and Lynne A. Dunbrack.

As adoption of EHRs heats up, Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of the Healthcare IT Guy blog, shared with eWEEK his top 5 predictions for the health care IT industry in 2011.

1: Health care IT departments will increasingly adopt virtualization

As the amount of data grows along with the adoption of EHR applications, health care companies, especially newer firms, will aim to virtualize their servers to prepare for a cloud environment, according to Shah.

"The number of servers is growing and the number of data centers is growing, and that's going to force the hand of most CIOs who have stuck to physical servers to start really moving to virtual servers and somewhat into the cloud," he said. "I see the move to virtualization first, then the cloud, just like we do in every other industry."

EMC and its VMware subsidiary were active in this area in 2010, establishing virtual private clouds in various hospitals, including Orange Regional Medical Center, in Middletown, N.Y., and Northern Hospital of Surry County, in Mount Airy, N.C.

2: Stand-alone medical devices will become more integrated in IT strategy and priorities

A recent survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics and sponsored by communications technology company Latronix found that only one-third of hospitals surveyed had an "active interface" between medical devices and an EHR. The connection between these devices and electronic records will grow in 2011, and they'll become more an essential component of health care IT, Shah predicts.

"Medical device companies are feeling the heat from the CIOs that these are expensive devices, and they should be part of the hospital's IT infrastructure, not just sitting outside on the floor," Shah said. "Medical device connectivity is heating up. Stand-alone medical devices will no longer be the norm; connected devices will be," he predicted.

Medical devices such as blood glucose meters will incorporate connectivity such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular and ZigBee, a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh standard, Shah said.

These stand-alone devices will now be manufactured with this connectivity built in, rather than as an add-on, he said.

Companies that make these stand-alone medical devices include CareFusion, GE Healthcare and Philips Healthcare.

In addition to wireless connectivity, medical devices are now incorporating greater compatibility with general IT equipment such as printers.

In August, Epson America and Philips announced that the latter company's ultrasound medical imaging equipment would be compatible with Epson inkjet and WorkForce printers using a universal print driver called ESC/P-R.

3: Identity and access management will be essential tools in fighting data breaches

With the increasing number of data breaches in health care and other industries, a single log-in for multiple databases will be vital to centralize IAM (identity access management), Shah said.

Virtualization, EHR-Linked Devices, m-Health to Lead Health Care IT in 2011: Analysts

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With each hospital using its own security systems for areas such as identity, lab access and EHRs, one log-in for all of these systems will allow IT departments to maintain tighter control of access, Shah noted.

Provisioning and deprovisioning log-in credentials will be easier with a single-sign-on procedure, according to Shah.

In 2010 there were a number of security breaches in health care, including one in which sensitive WellPoint health care data was accessible from a public URL when an employee at the health plan failed to implement security procedures while updating the SiteMinder authentication and log-in application.

4: Health information exchange standards will become clearer

As with the broad compatibility of e-mail networks such as Google, Hotmail and Yahoo, the health care industry needs a way to exchange information across different EHR systems and images from lab tests across various platforms.

Initiatives leading toward interoperability of HIEs (health information exchanges) include the NHIN (Nationwide Health Information Network), organized by the federal government.

Another initiative to watch for in 2011 is the Direct Project, according to Shah.

"The Direct Project is allowing sets of interoperability standards and codes to allow two physicians to send health data to each other only by knowing their health data address," he explained.

On Nov. 18 IBM and Aetna's ActiveHealth division collaborated to build an HIE for residents in Puerto Rico, while Verizon launched its HIE on July 14 to allow physicians to share medical records in a standard format.

5: Mobile health players will seek a business model

Pilot projects are operating in developing areas, such as India, Africa and South America, that use mobile phones as a vehicle for health information communication. However, mobile-health applications have yet to present a way for IT companies to make money, according to Shah.

Mobile health providers will want to find a way to make money from mobile health apps and SMS texting with doctors and pharmacies, Shah suggested.

"What we're going to see in 2011 and going forward is can we turn those into sustainable business models that clearly show you can save money, reduce cost, improve revenue, etc," he said.

Mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads have been used in countries such as the United States to run health applications, but mobile users in third world countries turn to ordinary cell phones with less CPU power to send SMS texts between doctors and patients.

Research firm Ovum has predicted that smartphones and tablets will lead a consumerization of health care technology in 2011.

Recently NaviNet-which acquired Prematics, a mobile care management firm-moved to bolster its health care network on mobile devices, and with the upcoming launch of the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook and its support for Flash and touch screen finger gestures to zoom in on medical images, the m-health market could explode.

Still, monetization challenges remain, according to Shah.

"People understand that m-health will work technically," Shah said. "Now how do we make it pay for itself so the business and technology side can be tied together going forward?"



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