This time of year there are at least 1 million (or so) year-in-review stories--and it would probably take the better part of 2012 to get through them all. So here's a mash-up of the best of the "looking back at the year in Health IT" lists. Think of it as our New Year's present to you: we did the reading so you don't have to.
The most obvious trend in 2011 was the push for better integration of health IT systems to improve patient care and safety, according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
The professional organization listed 12 trends--one for each month in 2011. The list is heavy on electronic medical records and Meaningful Use, of course, such as the hidden costs of EHRs, for example. But there also are links to stories on other hot topics of 2011, including the role of accountable care organizations (ACO) and emerging technologies in fostering integration.
Five years from now we'll look back at 2011 as "a pivotal time in the evolution of telehealth," according to this telehealth year in review published by Government Health IT.
"We saw a continued trend of federal funding that provides direct incentives for the use of telehealth technology, and promising results from major pilots in the field. But most importantly, there were significant developments in the regulation of telehealth technology and coverage of telehealth-enabled care. These game-changers will lower the barriers to entry and accelerate the adoption of telehealth," the article notes.
The article touches on a number of 2011's telehealth milestones, from updated reimbursement policies and rates for doctors who deliver remote healthcare to improved guidance from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for mobile medical applications to the efforts underway to use technology to improve quality and access to care in rural areas.
Dr. John D. Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, touches on federal and state HIT initiatives in his well-informed 2011 roundup. He notes that the drive toward Meaningful Use stressed many organizations and chides EHR vendors for poor communication as they scurried to add the features necessary for certification, "resulting in 'haste makes waste' lack of usability and workflow integration.
On the other hand, he notes, IT departments worked "productivity miracles" with limited staff and budgets. And since many organizations will deposit their Meaningful Use payments into general operations and not IT department accounts, the sacrifice of IT staff will in many cased go unrecognized.
On the state side, Halamka touches on healthcare information exchanges, Beacon Communities, research programs and HIT grants.
Health and medical apps
Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of 2011 healthcare apps roundups this year--perhaps because there are so many of them now that to sort through them all to come up with a top 10 list would be nearly impossible.
MobiHealthNews took a look at Apple's annual "App Store Rewind 2011″ section in iTunes, which lists Apple's picks for the year's best overall games and apps for its devices, including the iPhone and iPad. The picks include both consumer and professional health apps from its Medical and its Health & Fitness categories.
The medical apps that made this year's list included "a few that received FDA clearances this year, apps from closely watched startups that had high profile launches, apps that enjoyed top billing on Apple's continually updated top app lists, and more," according to the article.
Meanwhile, the article notes, despite the proliferation of healthcare apps, adoption has been "largely stagnant over the past 12 months." It cites a Pew Research survey that found 11 percent of adults have downloaded a smartphone app to help them manage their health-only a slight increase over the previous year.
"As access to confidential patient information expands through the use of electronic health records...and other healthcare technologies, worries about patient privacy and risk of data breaches increase," noted HealthWire in its 2011 healthcare technology wrap-up.
The article points out Federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), have amped up efforts to hunt down healthcare providers who have breached privacy and security rules. "Any violation of HIPAA laws can mean non-compliance and can warrant an OCR investigation," the article warns, from denying patients access to their EHRs to accidentally exposing protected health information (PHI).
Other cool stuff
There's a whole other category of year-in-review lists: the medical and technology breakthroughs of 2011. This list of 2011's notable scientific, technology and health breakthroughs includes the story of how data helped shorten the length of a study on an HIV trial. An independent data-monitoring board came to a conclusion four years before the study was originally set to end.
Longer-lasting batteries and advances in robot technology could also have significant implications in the healthcare world.
In the biomedical device category, this blogger came up with an impressive list of 15 Biomedical Engineering Technologies of 2011, including an implant that continuously monitors tumors, the first man-made blood vessels and lab-grown muscle tissue, light-controlled pacemakers and more.
Publications that don't focus exclusively on healthcare or HIT still touched on the topics in their own 2011 roundups. Engadget, for example, gave a nod to IBM's million-dollar natural language processing computer, Watson, which took two "regular humans to school" on the quiz show Jeopardy. "As it turns out, all three contestants knew the answer most of the time, but the supercomputer was just quicker on the draw," the site notes. "As a victory lap, Watson would take on the healthcare industry."