Predicting the Future of Health IT: How It Could Curb Medical Costs

Health IT is a big deal these days. While there has been some controversy surrounding it, there is no doubt that, if implemented well, it can improve everything from disease monitoring to noncompliance with doctors' orders. Such transformation seems inevitable because of IT's ability to transform other aspects of our lives. Within the last 20 years, for instance, information technology has vastly simplified banking, performing research, and making travel arrangements. But, as people such as Mark Smith, president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation have pointed out, health care has lagged far behind other industries in its implementation of IT.

To get a better sense of what its role in health care will be in the near future, Medgadget had the opportunity to interview Eric Marx, vice president of Healthcare IT Services at Modis, an IT staffing agency.

One of the most important issues in health care these days is cost control. How can health IT data help control costs? In addition, how can health IT transform health care delivery and epidemiology?

The largest cost savings over the long run should come through the collection and comparison of large volumes of national patient and treatment data, using business intelligence (BI) to compare the lowest patient treatment costs with similar outcomes. For example, if it is found that a relatively inexpensive drug delivers similar results to more expensive surgery, and that can be replicated across the entire country, that should shift costs down over time, or at least reduce the growth rate of costs.

Additionally, as our BI and predictive analytics knowledge matures, the goal would be to spot trends in the data that can help us prevent and contain things like disease outbreaks. Catching issues early could have a huge impact on the population.

What kind of influence do you think cloud computing will play in all of this?

Cloud computing makes a lot of sense for two reasons. One, it has been proven to significantly reduce infrastructure costs. Second, it may be more efficient if changes can be managed centrally and pushed out more rapidly and consistently to adjust to ever changing federal regulations.

What is being done about privacy concerns related to health data?

HIPAA laws and the Privacy Rule are in place to cover this, and this is a focus area that likely will have greater scrutiny from HHS, with likely more teeth in it than in the past, such as more high-profile sanctions and penalties. With the significant health care IT expansion and sharing of data, there is a lot of discussion addressing who owns patient data at which point during the exchange of data amongst health care stakeholders, determining who is ultimately responsible and liable at various transaction points.

What is the health care industry now doing to prepare for the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10 is the latest version) from the World Health Organization?

Most health care industry organizations seem to be on track to meet the HIPAA 5010 upgrade requirement by January 1, as a prerequisite on the path to full ICD-10 compliance by October 1, 2013. Most organizations seem to at least have a strategic plan in place, or are working on that, but we expect by late 2012 many places will be struggling to meet project milestones based on complexity and scarcity of qualified resources.

What, in your view, are the employment opportunities likely to be in electronic medical records (EMR), both in the short and long term?

Short term, the market is very hot for those with experience in the major EMR vendors like Epic, Cerner, MEDITECH, and Allscripts. A lot of formerly full-time employees are entering the lucrative contracting market, so over time, the market should balance out a bit more. Long term, we would expect folks with expertise in security, BI/DW, report writing, and business analysis skills with backgrounds in the health care industry to be in high demand.

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Earlier this year, Eric Marx sat down with Lockergnome founder Chris Pirillo to discuss health IT. Here's the video of their conversation:

This post also appears on medGadget, an Atlantic partner site.