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

In 2011, we'll see EHRs reach the adoption phase, data centers get virtualized, stand-alone medical devices connect to EHRs and m-health take off, according to industry experts.

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.