Dec 08 2021

3 Health Tech Trends to Watch in 2022

Visibility into information and IT systems gives healthcare providers and IT staff the data they need to proactively manage change in the industry.

Recent challenges have pushed healthcare organizations to embrace guiding principles that have proved their value in new ways.

The need to maintain agility in operations and technology; the importance of collaboration within and between organizations; and the role of solutions that increase visibility and ease day-to-day workloads all have become essential to healthcare providers and IT staff.

Here are three trends in healthcare that will continue to influence investments and decision-making in 2022.

  1. Streamlining clinical communication and collaboration: More organizations are deploying solutions that facilitate real-time access to patient information and seamless collaboration among care teams. The next step will be refining their features and workflow integrations, especially in ways that align with the unique requirements of specific teams and providers.
  2. Bolstering visibility and automation in cybersecurity amid continued threats: The onslaught of cyberattacks has made it clear that healthcare will continue to be heavily targeted. In response, IT leaders must have complete visibility into their environments. Automation is one of the key ways that staff are able to manage the volume of risk and address it quickly.
  3. Improving data analytics and visualization to address population health: The right tools can streamline the creation of actionable, data-informed insights, but doing so under fast-changing circumstances is a bigger challenge. However, that’s what providers and researchers are moving toward as they take advantage of both technology and partnerships. In the process, they’re working to improve care and increase equity.

HealthTech spoke with leaders from four healthcare organizations about how they have adopted these approaches.

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Driving Holistic Decision-Making in Healthcare

Clinicians can do their best work when they have full, fast access to patient records, test results, peer collaboration and other resources. Clinical communication and collaboration tools help to make that vision a reality, easing workflows while improving outcomes.

At Northwell Health, which has 23 hospitals in and around New York City, a move to Microsoft Teams in 2019 provided a foundation for seamless, HIPAA-compliant collaboration that supports decision-making and patient management.

“It does create an ecosystem for care teams,” says Deputy CIO Sophy Lu. “It sets a common platform to share knowledge and communications.”

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To complement Teams, Northwell’s information services staff built Nora, an intelligent virtual assistant that makes relevant patient data accessible on clinicians’ mobile devices. Nora not only provides a quick, summarized view of the latest clinical data, but can also alert clinicians when test results, consult notes or discharge orders are ready, providing real-time access to critical information. Nora is a multicloud solution that uses best-of-breed tools from Microsoft Azure to make data available securely to the right clinician.

Although clinicians work within electronic medical records, it’s faster and easier to use Nora to view the data they need, Lu says. “Our vision was to be able to get the information at your fingertips when you need it, quickly and even through voice interaction.”

Sophy Lu

Photography by Jesse Ditmar

Clinicians’ feedback has driven additional features, including access to records beyond the EMR, showing risk scores and predictions, and viewing radiology images from a mobile phone.

Initiatives like this track the emphasis on digital health, says Samantha Burch, director for health IT policy for the American Hospital Association. “We see a growing focus on improving the consumer experience through digital access technologies,” she adds.

Northwell’s ultimate vision is for Teams to be the primary clinical collaboration platform, not only facilitating timely access to information from the EMR, but also empowering shared communication about a patient’s needs.

Moving forward, in addition to viewing data, clinicians will also be able to securely capture notes and even place orders during rounds — not only from EMRs (the way it works now), but also bidirectionally, from clinicians to the EMR, Lu says. 

“It would be awesome if we can use this to enable clinicians to also place orders, and those orders would automatically transact into the EMR and expedite through the downstream,” she says.

Currently, Northwell has more than 50,000 employees on Teams, but its initial deployment focused on physicians, to further secure communications and enhance collaboration. In December 2021, following a rollout of mobile devices to nursing staff, Northwell will pilot Nora in Teams to coordinate care at shift changes.

“It’s the same sort of information that nurses now talk through or hand off on a spreadsheet,” says Lu, adding that the upgrade has been extremely well received. “This is a game changer for them.”

Nora in Microsoft Teams is relied on for important processes across the health system, including facilitating informed patient transfers by automating a summary of a patient’s care needs for the providers involved and ensuring all members of the interdisciplinary team share the same understanding of a patient’s needs during discharge planning.

Northwell is also assessing a predictive model of the patient experience that will incorporate patients’ feedback while they are still in the hospital, allowing staff to address concerns proactively.

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Comprehensive coordination leads to more holistic care, Lu says, giving clinicians, patients and families the 360-degree views they need to achieve the best outcomes.

The trend toward IT solutions that integrate information from multiple sources is moving providers closer to that goal, Burch adds.

“Hospitals and health systems are continuously investing in new and innovative technologies and platforms that allow for patients to access a more comprehensive view of their health and healthcare and provide clinicians more efficient access to information at the point of care,” she says.

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Prioritizing Risk Management Activities to Protect Patient Data

Ransomware and other cyberattacks on healthcare organizations made for a challenging 2021, and they won’t let up in 2022. Add in risks related to the Internet of Medical Things, cloud computing and interconnected data systems, and IT leaders have a full plate to manage, says Greg Peebles, director of information security at St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

To help IT staff prioritize risk management, St. Elizabeth relies on Tenable.sc. The platform provides a risk-based view of vulnerabilities, together with automated scanning and reporting, which makes it easier to identify and correct potential problems.

“We want to scan our entire environment, regardless of what’s added from a technology perspective,” Peebles says.

Medical devices can be especially complex, with unique operating systems and patient privacy concerns. Tenable’s active and passive scanning modes, and the ability to identify risky devices such as those that are outdated, help to alleviate those issues.

Better visibility also allows for more granular reporting and trend analyses, Peebles adds. With a system that spans six facilities and some 170 offices in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, the ability to customize reporting for various audiences was important for St. Elizabeth’s IT department.

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“When I started here, we focused on creating metrics and measurement for our vulnerability management, which is really where Tenable fits,” Peebles says.

With potentially thousands of vulnerabilities each month, the ability to prioritize and track remediation over time is crucial. “The goal was to have catching processes in place, and then you use tools like Tenable to track and see how you’re doing,” he says.  

Automation helps IT staff stay on top of that volume, such as with patching tools that automatically scan and send monthly reports.

“There are still some vulnerabilities that we have to understand manually, but when it comes to the patching cycle, the scanning and communication, we’ve tried to automate that, to take the effort out of repeatable processes,” Peebles says.

As cyberattacks grow in sophistication, he sees an opportunity for healthcare organizations to increase their collaboration. Partnership efforts, such as security operations centers, could help providers share intelligence and optimize their infrastructure.

“How can we take more coordinated efforts to stop the bad actors that are actively launching phishing campaigns and trying to break into hospitals?” Peebles says. “I look at the smaller hospitals that may not even have dedicated security teams. How can we, as an industry, help them and help each other?”

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Driving Insights and Improvements of Population Health

For medical providers and researchers, the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on data analytics, along with the immense challenge of decision-making in real time, under rapidly changing conditions.

The need to monitor and respond to population health to improve patient outcomes and to collaborate with public health agencies led to a major initiative at University of Chicago Medicine to use data in new ways.

The clinical data and analytics team created dashboards for COVID-19 reporting. Using Tableau for data visualization, the dashboards provided new ways to see, analyze and share information. UChicago Medicine has since made template versions available to other healthcare organizations as well.

Analyses helped staff monitor patient populations, trends, ventilator and ICU needs, and other areas, says Mark Connolly, UChicago Medicine’s business intelligence lead for clinical data and analytics.

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“There were so many potential data elements and needs that it could have been hard to digest without the use of dashboards, data visualization and analytics,” he says.

The team also used Microsoft SQL Server, Python and (for remote collaboration) Zoom. As staff worked closely with colleagues throughout the hospital system, one of their biggest challenges was keeping pace with the rapid evolution of COVID-19 knowledge.

“We had to keep in constant communication with clinical leaders to understand how workflows were going to be changing,” Connolly says. Proactive data management continues today, he adds, in relation to vaccines and boosters.

Data analysis also enabled UChicago Medicine to apply an equity lens to patient outcomes and to implement process improvements, he adds. Once COVID-19 reporting was available, it quickly became one of the system’s most-viewed resources.

“The data provided was actionable and constantly informed by clinical frontline staff and leaders, which helped keep it relevant as the pandemic evolved,” Connolly says.

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