Dec 07 2022

5 Takeaways from Health IT Leaders on 2022 Technology Priorities

Dive into tech insights on security, staffing, equity and more.
Tech Trends 2023

During the tumultuous first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations experienced a rapid increase in technology adoption, a worsening staff shortage related to burnout, and an increase in the amount and sophistication of cyberthreats.

While the future effects of the pandemic — and even this winter’s “tripledemic” — are yet to be seen, healthcare and health IT leaders are reflecting on the industry’s recent evolution and finding ways to prepare for the future through digital transformation.

Here are some of the top takeaways from health IT leaders on healthcare’s digital transformation based on HealthTech’s event coverage, blogs, interviews and Twitter polls this year.

1. Staff Shortage Impacts on Healthcare Severe and Likely to Continue

Staff shortages were a major concern for health IT leaders in 2022, and they will likely continue into 2023. In April of this year, 39 percent of leaders surveyed in a HealthTech Twitter poll responded that staff shortages were their biggest health IT concern.

HealthTech influencer Dr. Nisha Mehta, a diagnostic radiologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and founder of the Facebook groups Physician Community and Physician Side Gigs, said earlier this year that hospital nurses were reporting unsafe staffing ratios, feeling stretched beyond capacity and being pressured to do more with fewer resource.

“I worry about the long-term erosion of quality of care for our patients if we do not proactively address these shortages by focusing on efforts to retain physicians and other healthcare workers,” she added. “Additionally, reimbursement cuts and rising inflation without corresponding increases in salaries further threaten the healthcare workforce.”

Staff shortages were discussed at events throughout the year, including the American Telemedicine Association’s ATA2022 conference, the 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO and the CHIME22 Fall Forum. One major takeaway is that technology alone cannot solve staff shortages. Process is just as important.

“Robots are not going to solve your staffing challenge,” said Joe Velderman, vice president of innovation at Cypress Living, during the LeadingAge conference, adding that the deployment of robots must be coupled with a re-engineering of existing workflows to ensure efficiencies.

EXPLORE: How leveraging real-time clinical communication improves care and clinical efficiencies.

Solutions such as clinical automation, virtual nursing and partner-delivered IT services can help healthcare organizations mitigate the impacts of both clinician and IT shortages when implemented intentionally with stakeholder input.

However, some healthcare organizations may need to undergo a culture shift to prepare clinicians for technology adoption. Some may be hesitant to trust clinical automation because they are concerned about patient care and privacy.

“Overcoming this challenge requires a culture shift. Healthcare organizations should emphasize to clinicians that clinical automation and computer vision AI technologies aren’t intended to penalize or replace them, but to support them in their workflow and improve patient care,” write CDW Healthcare Director of Virtual Care Elliott Wilson and Frederick Holston, director of healthcare at Sirius, a CDW company, in a recent blog post. “It’s also important to create a culture of exploration led by clinical executives who are working with IT teams, clinicians and financial executives within the organization. That culture change needs to be owned at the top of the organization to drive acceptance.”

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2. Cybersecurity Continues to Be a Top Health IT Concern and Priority

Whether it was the cloud or mergers and acquisitions, healthcare IT leaders had cybersecurity top of mind in 2022. The healthcare industry is facing phishing and ransomware attacks while dealing with a growing number of attack vectors due to increasing IT complexity.

While the number of security breaches dropped slightly to 337 in the first half of 2022 from 368 in the first half of 2021, the percentage of healthcare breaches attributed to malicious activity rose more than 5 percentage points in the first half of 2022, accounting for nearly 80 percent of all reported incidents according to Fortified Health Security’s 2022 Mid-Year Horizon Report.

While staffing shortages have added another challenge to healthcare cybersecurity efforts, only 17 percent of health IT leaders surveyed in an August HealthTech Twitter poll reported that it would be their reason for subscribing to managed detection and response services as part of their cybersecurity strategy. The top reason, selected by 52 percent of respondents, was 24/7/365 protection.

Managed detection and response services are helping many health IT leaders keep their organizations protected from increasingly sophisticated attacks.

“The best way to stop ransomware attacks is with endpoint security software, but that has to be monitored 24/7,” said Duc Lai, vice president and CISO at University of Maryland Medical System. “Security teams in the healthcare industry don’t generally have the resources for that kind of coverage, so it’s important to find a partner in a managed service that can do that monitoring and do the containment and response for you.”

In a July HealthTech Twitter poll, 38 percent of health IT leaders who responded said that cybersecurity is their biggest pain point during a merger or acquisition. Patient data protection is the biggest cybersecurity priority for leaders during an M&A according to another poll, which found that 41 percent of respondents prioritize patient data protection over network security, medical device security and closing security gaps.

However, considering cybersecurity concerns early in the merger or acquisition process can make it much easier for healthcare organizations to keep their patient data and IT environments protected during an integration.

“It started with understanding the lay of the land. We made sure both sides understood there’s no right or wrong, so we literally visited every wiring closet, looked at every data center and checked every system. It took eight weeks to comb through everything. Then we put our shopping list together,” said Juan Rodriguez, director of IT for Anne Arundel Medical Center.

Many in healthcare see cloud migration as having cybersecurity benefits. According to a January HealthTech Twitter poll, 34 percent of health IT stakeholders responded that improved security has been the top benefit of their public cloud migration rather than scalability, increased storage or faster data processing. More recently, 36 percent of poll respondents reported that cloud security is their top cybersecurity investment priority for the next year.

“Cloud-based security can also improve the resilience of a healthcare organization’s cybersecurity response. If a ransomware attack happens, an organization can respond much faster in the cloud than with on-premises infrastructure, and will have a better chance of accessing protected backups,” writes Ted Baker, business development manager of digital velocity solutions for CDW, in a blog about the public cloud.

Click the banner below to optimize your cloud environment with guidance from CDW.

3. Most Senior Care Orgs Are Behind on Network Infrastructure

The senior and post-acute care industry is dealing with an influx of technology brought in by residents, being implemented to provide residents with connection and engagement, and being implemented to improve clinician and caregiver workflows.

However, to support these technologies and initiatives, senior and post-acute care organizations must have the network infrastructure to support these devices and programs, which rely on a strong Wi-Fi connection.

According to a May HealthTech Twitter poll, 28 percent of senior care IT leaders responded that tech implementations is the area of their organization that would benefit most from network infrastructure upgrades, followed by resident satisfaction, community safety and community efficiency. Despite that finding, 30 percent of senior care IT leaders reported that their organizations haven’t upgraded their network infrastructure in more than five years.

An updated network infrastructure can foster self-reliance among residents and give time back to staff. For instance, residents looking for information about the day’s menu or activities can find the information via smart home devices, leaving staff to focus on care.

“Previously, senior living and post-acute care organizations focused on a finite amount of connectivity,” write Liz Cramer, chief post-acute and senior care strategist for CDW Healthcare, and Jessica Longly, senior care strategist for CDW Healthcare, in a blog post. “Today, prospective residents or patients often ask what tech capabilities will be available to them: What’s the connectivity like? Will smart devices be provided? What about tech support? Now, along with supporting a more mobile workforce, organizations are evolving to support engaged residents or patients who are comfortable with more technology in their lives.”

When upgrading networks, Allison Norfleet, global healthcare lead for industry solutions at Cisco, pointed out that many organizations have legacy equipment in use that needs to be brought onto the upgraded network, including radio-frequency identification alarms, closed-circuit TV security cameras and more. The most common pain point is the historical adoption of single-purpose networks for specific solutions and the legacy infrastructure deficit that creates.

“For example, look at RFID-based staff duress solutions. The market solutions today are end-of-support, and their replacements are expensive,” she said. “Care facilities need to ask very specific questions that highlight the value of IT and operational technology convergence.”

Doug McDonald, technology director in the office of the CTO at Extreme Networks, said it’s also important for senior care organizations to choose a vendor that can help them pick the right technologies and support them through the implementation and management of the solutions.

“A lot of organizations don’t have the resources or money to design and install an appropriate network infrastructure,” he says. “A technology investment will be more successful if it is designed and installed correctly out of the gate, so that when a senior care organization invests, it gets the performance it deserves.”

Click the banner below to learn how senior care technology supports caregivers and older adults.

4. IT Leaders Prioritize Equity Among Patient-Oriented Tech Goals

Not everyone has access to care. Some people live in medical deserts, and others may not have the resources to make it to an in-person appointment or take advantage of virtual care offerings. For those who can access care, some may face bias, racism or other factors that affect the quality of their care.

However, many healthcare organizations aim to improve health equity. In an October HealthTech Twitter poll, 36 percent of health IT leaders who responded said that health equity is their biggest patient-oriented technology priority for 2023.

Collecting and analyzing social determinants of health data when making diagnostic and treatment decisions can improve health outcomes.

“Ideally, providers should be able to counsel patients and connect them with programs and other support services to address the SDOH that puts them at risk,” writes Dr. Trent Haywood, a board adviser for Lucina Analytics, in a recent HealthTech article.

However, healthcare organizations looking to act on social determinants of health data must standardize and improve reporting.

Many healthcare organizations are already focused on health equity. UC Davis Health announced the launch of its Cloud Innovation Center in partnership with Amazon Web Services in 2021. Its focus is on digital health equity and open innovation.

Keisuke Nakagawa
When it comes to health equity, it really is a shared mission.”

Keisuke Nakagawa Executive Director, UC Davis Health Cloud Innovation Center

“When it comes to health equity, it really is a shared mission,” said Keisuke Nakagawa, executive director of the UC Davis Health CIC and director of innovation for the Digital CoLab.

Digital health startups are also taking health equity into their own hands, with solutions focused on equitable and affirming care for LGBTQ patients as well as a growing movement of digital health solutions focused on women’s health.

5. Healthcare Faces Many Barriers to Interoperability Improvements

Improving interoperability is an important goal for the healthcare industry. However, achieving that goal isn’t easy. The Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard aims to expand patient access to personal health data and improve interoperability, but many health IT leaders face barriers to FHIR API adoption. Of the leaders surveyed in a March Twitter poll, 35 percent responded that cost is their biggest barrier, followed by security concerns, lack of infrastructure and lack of needed IT skill sets.

Christian Carmody, senior vice president of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center IT Division and UPMC’s CTO, noted that the FHIR APIs being developed aren't fully baked yet.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, which is where the cost comes in and the infrastructure comes in to support that,” he said. “Typically, with newer technologies and newer standards, there’s always that adoption curve.”

Jason Warrelmann, UiPath’s global director of healthcare and life sciences, added that with the adoption and implementation of government-regulated open API standards and FHIR setups, healthcare organizations are quickly realizing they lack the internal processes to manage data governance and that their electronic health record platforms have yet to be optimized to take full advantage of the data integrations.

“The barriers to adoption will take time to overcome as EHRs mature to handle both two-way API, custom API development and the secure sharing of FHIR-based data in a peer-to-peer exchange,” he said.

Healthcare IT leaders addressed FHIR and healthcare’s journey toward better interoperability at both ViVE 2022 and HIMSS22.

David Vawdrey, chief data informatics officer at Geisinger Health, explained at ViVE that, from his perspective, adoption of FHIR has been slow.

“The world is still running on HL7 Version 2,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity ahead, but the pace isn’t moving where a lot of us would like it to be. Regulatory framework shifts have taken place, and people are not well acquainted with the Cures Act and information blocking. We’re waiting for that watershed moment, but the policy framework is catching up.”

DISCOVER: What you need to know about FHIR vs. HL7 Version 2 for healthcare interoperability.

Tina Joros, vice president and general manager at Allscripts, advised healthcare IT leaders not to spend time and energy rewriting existing integration that’s already working with HL7 and to instead focus on newer use cases where FHIR can add value.

At HIMSS, Victoria Tiase, who was director of research science at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital at the time of the event, pointed out that it’s not enough to rely on an electronic health records vendor or some other third-party partner to address interoperability issues.

“We can’t wait for someone else to solve this. We need to bring everyone together to figure out how to get this done,” she said.

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