This Week Health
January 25, 2022

2022 Health IT Trends, Experts Weigh In

Health IT Trends to Watch in 2022

The rise of new virtual care, remote work, and high-tech solutions that began in 2020 continued on in 2021, making it another landmark year for health IT adoption and innovation. The 24 months of rapid change has  incentivized healthcare leaders to try and align with health IT trends as they enter the new year.

As 2021 came to a close, many health IT leaders identified key trends that health systems may grapple with in the new year and beyond. 

Tony Thornton, Principal Advisor for World Wide Technology

Health IT Trend #1: Patients Will Drive Demand for Interoperability

Despite extensive investment, healthcare has not yet reached true interoperability. Tony Thornton, a principal advisor on federal healthcare for World Wide Technology, has faith that newcomers to the healthcare industry will help drive improvements.

Thornton noted that it is not really a technology problem: other sectors already transmit complicated, secure data sets between entities with relative ease. Rather, it’s a people problem. Often, a lack of motivation and concerted effort has been the main barrier to interoperability.

He provided an example of how younger consumers could apply pressure to healthcare. His daughter, a member of Generation Z, has been tested for COVID-19 many times throughout the pandemic. For her, it was frustrating that she could not access her results easily from a mobile device. 

“She has the greatest expectation that the results are going to be where she needs them when she needs them,” he said. “She looks at me as a healthcare guy and says, ‘Dad, this has to get better.’”

These pressures can increase demand, Thornton explained, and help make interoperability a point of focus in 2022.

A Greater Emphasis on Health Information

Additionally, the pandemic highlighted the importance of health information among systems. And yet, Thornton noted that it also escalated it as a priority for patients.

“It's a must in order for us to improve outcomes from a clinical delivery perspective, but also to meet the demand signal from the patients,” he said. “People typically are most interested in their healthcare when they’re older or have a chronic disease. I think the pandemic has become a forcing function to improve our interest around quality care delivery.”

Patients’ heightened expectations will continue to drive change, according to Thornton. The telehealth and virtual care boom caused by the pandemic will also drive interoperability, he continued, as health systems improve their inter-industry communication to keep up with the new disparate care environment. 

Health IT Trend 2: Big Tech Will Continue to Drive Change

Sarah Richardson This Week in Health IT

Sarah Richardson, CIO at Tivity

Big tech players in healthcare are nothing new in industry conversations. However, with the pandemic paving the way for further disruption in 2022, patients expect convenience and ease-of-use in an increasingly virtual industry. Big tech firms have mastered those features, according to Tivity CIO Sarah Richardson.

“How many times in the last 5 to 10 years, when describing what you would want an experience to be, have you literally said ‘It's like having an Amazon experience?’” she asked. “Now they’re just doing it in healthcare.”

For example, Amazon made waves in 2021 by widening their employee-facing concierge care service and expanding in-person care for the public to 16 cities in 2022. The company has reportedly spoken to many major health insurers and employers about getting their telehealth and in-person care services covered in-network.

“They have an easy-to-use app where patients can speak to a care navigator or a clinician very quickly. It has dispatch capabilities, so a clinician can come to you where you are,” This Week In Health IT's founder and host Bill Russell said. “It has that convenience factor, and there’s no way to compete with Amazon on logistics.” 

Healthcare Must Understand Consumer Needs and Outside Industry Competition

To Richardson, big tech’s logistical capabilities and built-in brand loyalty make them formidable in a competitive landscape. 

“Amazon shows up at my house every single day. Why not bring a doctor next time?” she said. 

In contrast, Russell expressed that big tech efforts like Amazon Care could serve as a model for traditional healthcare players, rather than their replacement. Large local providers could deliver similar local convenience if they partnered with these companies. While people may trust companies like Amazon for logistics, they trust their local providers for their healthcare, he further explained.

“People want to get their healthcare from the doctor they see on a regular basis. They have a high degree of trust in those organizations, much more so than big tech,” he said. “But big tech is slowly cracking the code on accessibility and ease of use, and those are the areas where health systems will need to bolster their capabilities moving forward, both digitally and logistically.” 

Health IT Trend #3: It’s an Employee’s Market 

Since its onset, the pandemic has contributed to mass shifts in the labor market. In healthcare, this has only added stress to an already tight staffing situation. Entering 2022, the healthcare industry is projected to continue its struggle in filling staffing roles, both clinical and administrative. Sue Schade, a principal at StarBridge Advisors, and Rick McElroy, a cybersecurity strategist at VMWare, point to a number of factors driving this difficult trend.

Clinician Burnout and the Staffing Crisis

Sue Schade, Principal for StarBridge Advisors

To Schade, it is a matter of generational priorities and burnout. Many older professionals who were nearing retirement chose to pull the plug early rather than navigate the shifting remote work environment through the final years of their career, she proposed. As for younger professionals, they might not have the same financial goals as previous generations—or the same willingness to subject themselves to burnout and frustration. 

McElroy also acknowledged burnout, but noted that the pay scales in cybersecurity have “gone through the roof.” Now, potential employees have a larger pool to choose from when regarding their employment. They can choose what is best for their situation, McElroy explained. Remote work has loosed many of the past ties to employers—proximity, convenience, and in-office friendships.

In both cases, the experts acknowledged that the labor force is now steering the ship. Additionally, they pointed to employee engagement and development as the way out of this troubling health IT trend. 

“I think it's absolutely critical that managers and organizations provide a level of flexibility to their employees at this point, because it is a worker’s market right now. They can move wherever they want, so flexibility I think is key,” Schade said. “It’s about really knowing your people and understanding their situation and supporting them through whatever they're working through.”

Rick McElroy

Rick McElroy, Cybersecurity Strategist at VMware

For McElroy, the situation underlines the importance of developing talent in-house. 

“There are a lot of initiatives globally to grow our own cyber professionals, and wider campaigns to look everywhere for anybody that's interested in learning some stuff and contributing,” he said. “Because recruiting is still taking too long and then of course retaining our people is very hard right now.”

Health IT Trend #4: Scaling Innovation Won’t Get Any Easier

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in rapid innovation and technology adoption. However, health IT leaders are finding a major roadblock: they have the tools and the willpower, but not the ability to scale the solutions. Chris Logan, senior vice president and chief security officer at Censinet, held that the ability to rapidly scale new solutions depends on cultural adjustment. Once in place, however, he explained how that capacity to scale will in turn change the culture.

In Logan’s experience, health systems can easily see new tools that they believe will change their business. However, it is harder for them to recognize and accept the time and effort it could take to implement them. Seemingly quick, sleek fixes often turn into years-long builds that can already be outdated by the time they are up and running.

“COVID did some very interesting things to us. It made us scale innovation at breakneck speed, which we've never had to do before. If you think about just the whole work-from-home mentality, how many health systems do you know that actually had the flexibility for people to work from home? None,” he said, referring to the beginning of the pandemic. 

Making remote work feasible at scale was a big challenge, Logan said. But sustaining the pace of change will be a different story, as health systems will need to be agile.

Charles Boicey This Week in Health IT

Charles Boicey, CTO at Clearsense

“Scaling to get [remote capabilities in place] was a phenomenal event for healthcare, a lot of people did a lot of work,” he said. “But to try to bring in all these fancy new technologies to solve real critical business issues, we're just not there yet. We've got to shift that culture and we've got to start to learn more about what's taking shape outside the walls of our hospital.”

Health IT Trend #5: The Information Blocking Rule Will Finally Gain Momentum 

Health policy and innovation moved quickly throughout the pandemic. But one thing actually slowed down: the new information blocking rules. First outlined by the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016, these regulations were delayed while hospitals dealt with surging COVID cases. By October 2022, health systems must make both structured and unstructured individual health data available to patients “without special effort.” 

Charles Boicey, CTO for health analytics company Clearsense, acknowledged that this is not an especially long time. Therefore, health IT needs to get to work soon. 

“It's absolutely going to happen, there's no getting around it, and we can't hang out and wait for our EMR vendor partners to set the stage,” he said.

According to Boicey, healthcare companies need to understand the rules “backwards and forwards.” Then, preparations can be underway for all stakeholders.

Accommodating the New Information Blocking Rules

But when new federal rules arrive, Russell has noticed a pattern he hopes the industry will soon learn to avoid. Even with great forewarning, organizations will often drag their feet and miss the deadline entirely. Once ONC has had enough, they can make an example out of a few larger health systems with big fines. Then, other systems will begin their work in earnest.

“It feels like Groundhog Day,” he said.

The rules are there for a reason: to improve interoperability and empower patients, he explained. Intentional noncompliance will only hurt innovation and agility.

“We're going to be charged with the responsible and ethical transmission of that data, and we're going to be on the hook to make sure that it gets where it needs to and that it's done in a secure environment,” Boicey said.

Despite the delays, attaining full compliance with the new information blocking rules may be a scramble for some healthcare organizations. However, they could embrace the innovation and implementation lessons learned in 2021. In this case, health systems would be in a better position to get there before the end of the year.

“Assign people to this project. Fund this project. Make progress every week towards defining the data that you’re going to share. Ensure the mechanisms get put into place. Test them, and move it along,” Russell said. “Don’t be surprised in October 2022: Have a headline in September of 2022 of how you are using the data on behalf of the community. That is what we do in health IT.”

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