Information technology continues to play an expanding role in health care in 2019. While electronic health records (EHRs) have been the clear center of health IT innovation for a decade, other technologies are growing in importance. EHRs, artificial intelligence, and blockchain are three areas to track in 2019.

1. Advancing EHRs

Over 98 percent of acute care hospitals in the US are now using an electronic health record system. Health systems are still struggling to address physician workflow challenges, but EHRs have big implications for health care as a whole.

As a result of the deluge of patient data now digitized, data analytics is taking a greater role in day-to-day operations. Aggregated patient data can be analyzed to inform future diagnoses and treatment plans. Data from EHRs can also benefit population health management and the move towards value-based healthcare.

While the benefits of EHRs are clear, the industry is facing an interoperability crisis. Disruptions in the flow of patient data between facilities have left providers and patients frustrated. Interoperability is a complex challenge but government regulators, industry consortiums, and major vendors are working on it.

2. AI and Automation

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already used in many health systems to improve clinical diagnoses with decision support, manage population health, and determine the best course of action for disease management. One example, approved by the FDA last year, is an AI tool called IDx-DR that analyzes images of patient’s eyes to screen for diabetic retinopathy.

Deep learning is a powerful new addition to AI that is finding its way into innovative tools with high-value applications in the clinical environment. While still in mostly pre-commercialized phases, deep learning allows models to become more accurate as they process more data. This refines the ability of AI applications to make correlations and connections, even without a human trainer.

AI technology is “a game changer” for health care, according to Cleveland Clinic’s 2019 innovation report, because it can allow physicians to quickly make sense of the mountains of data within an EHR system.

3. Blockchain for Health Care

Best known as the distributed account platform that makes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin possible, blockchain also has big advantages for health care. Blockchain is one of the most popular emerging solutions to streamline EHR documentation and address cybersecurity concerns around patient health data.

The basis for blockchain is a peer-to-peer network architecture in which members of the network record digital transactions in a shared ledger. Each time a transaction takes place, bits of code record the new information as an encrypted block.

If this sounds like sharing health records between institutions, you’re on the right track. Blockchain appeals to doctors and hospitals because it would enable secure access to a patient’s entire health history without compromising security. An interoperability solution based on blockchain technology would also facilitate easy and anonymous data access for medical research.

While we’re still in the early stages of blockchain for healthcare, that’s changing fast. A 2018 PwC report found that 49 percent of global healthcare companies are already undertaking blockchain initiatives. When those applications are live and scalable, they could solve some of healthcare’s major IT challenges.

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