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Health Care CIO Trend Adjustments for 2020
By Sheri Stoltenberg

In strategically leading a health care organization—whether a community hospital or a large multifacility health system—it’s important to separate genuine industry trends from buzzwords. In tandem with C-suite hindsight, this can give organizations greater clarity into ongoing and future priorities.

To better arm health care leaders in the new decade, let’s look back at the top CIO concerns for 2019 and discuss how they compare with projected priorities for HIT leaders throughout 2020.

Market Disruption and Operational Burden
2019: In the seventh annual Health IT Industry Outlook Survey, 63% of health care leaders indicated that they felt “unprepared” or “very unprepared” to manage and execute effective IT operations within their health care facilities in 2019.

Across all facility types, leveraging meaningful patient data (32%) served as the largest overall hurdle for HIT teams in 2019, followed closely by ineffective IT or EHR operations (29%). For cross-organization operations, lack of system interoperability stood as the biggest burden for health care organizations (54%), followed by rising overhead and staff costs (17%), financial reimbursements (15%), and EHR burnout or reporting burden (14%).

2020 follow-up: Health care leaders should anticipate similar pressures throughout the new year. US hospitals are expected to feel record disruption as the marketplace becomes more competitive and as C-suites prepare for the possibility of economic slowdown.

Entering the new decade, hospitals and health systems hold significant operating cost pressures and more prevalent IT service failures, varying from system downtimes to cybersecurity hits. Such hurdles plus multiyear funding shortfalls have held back new business initiatives.

Amid continued restrictions on budget and limited qualified talent pools, many multifacility organizations are turning to IT managed services and cloud technology to cost effectively streamline IT support and maximize agility. As IT becomes increasingly complex with massive data volumes, these solutions, along with intelligent automation for repetitive tasks and cross-organization workflow optimization, can circumnavigate the lack of health care tech professionals.

Emphasis on Patient Engagement Technology
2019: A majority (45%) deemed updating technology to improve the patient experience as the top 2019 objective, followed by measuring improvement in patient care (33%), with both going together with evolving value-based care demands.

2020 follow-up: Advancing consumer expectations drive real patient engagement action—a trend here to stay in the new decade. Health care organizations need to maximize return on investment for their significant IT investments but also prove meaningful value to the patient. It’s more than checking the box on tactics for reimbursement documentation. More health care organizations are now seeking around-the-clock direct patient portal support as an extension of their IT service desk’s capabilities, while upping portal education and emphasis across all patient generations. This, paired with remote virtual monitoring, will propel improved care-plan adherence and patient outcomes.

As patient engagement increases with portal use, consumer expectations will continue to elevate in return. In an instant gratification­–oriented society, providers must realize that patients will want faster portal responses and communication. Though improving the patient-provider relationship, this means that physicians need to engage their support staff to help with portal response and set up clear, realistic expectations with new patients regarding provider communication.

Dominance of AI
2019: Aside from value-based care alignment, artificial intelligence (AI) was noted as the next most significant HIT industry topic. From the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives’ Fall Forum to the HIMSS Annual Conference, major session speakers expanded upon their interpretation and applications of AI and machine learning technology in health care.

2020 follow-up: In the present day, AI has now surpassed data analytics for new health care investment primacy. Expanding beyond initial use in radiology and pathology, AI has increased one-on-one patient interaction time and improved care-team collaboration. Even in anticipation of a possible economic slowdown, AI may be a wise investment as an advanced technology driving productivity through tougher times. Regardless of any fluctuations in the economy, as a positive business case, AI in hospital operations can deliver workload transformation across key business functions.

Anticipating continued market disruption, health care leaders can look to efficiency solutions, including IT managed services, cloud technology, patient portal optimization, and AI in facility operations. These HIT trends will drive competitiveness, even amid economic fluctuations, to continue health care organizations’ growth strategies.

— Sheri Stoltenberg is the founder and CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting.