Gartner, a leading technology consulting firm, has made the bold prediction that by 2014, the center of computer users' "digital lives" will shift from the PC to the "personal cloud." That doesn't mean people will stop using personal computers, Gartner said, but business and personal applications will be cloud-based to accommodate a variety of fixed and mobile devices that people use in their work and personal lives.
This shift clearly has immense implications for health IT--some of which are already affecting hospitals and healthcare systems. But not all of the "megatrends" that Gartner predicts in its report are necessarily applicable to healthcare--or at least not in the way they're stated.
For example, Gartner says, "mobile devices combined with the cloud can fulfill most computing tasks, and any tradeoffs are outweighed in the minds of the user by the convenience and flexibility provided by the mobile devices."
It's true that many physicians like mobile devices that give them the ability to access clinical information systems as they move around a practice or a hospital. But to really use an electronic health record to its full capability, mobile users must have applications that are tailored to those devices.
While EHR vendors are beginning to create such applications, the iPad is not really suited to entering data in a conventional EHR because of its limited keyboard and data input functionality. When iPad-native EHRs with natural language processing move to the next level, however, physicians will be able to use them as they employ PCs or laptops today.
Other Gartner forecasts seem right on target. A growing number of healthcare organizations, for example, are installing "virtual desktop" infrastructures, just as the firm says, to provide access to information without having to store it on local devices. This approach improves security, simplifies maintenance, makes better use of IT staffs, and--most importantly--improves the user experience.
Gartner also points out that virtualization gives users much greater power to process information on low-powered computer terminals.
Among Gartner's other prognostications:
- The trend toward consumerization of IT will continue, with significant ramifications for corporate systems.
- Cross-platform portability will increase as new applications are developed to facilitate user access to data across a variety of devices.
- The cloud will accelerate the current trend toward consumer self-service as people learn how to choose and use applications from very large menus.
What will be really interesting to see is how fast healthcare providers move to accommodate patient needs, which have traditionally been subordinated to the needs of physicians and hospitals. In healthcare, cultural and workflow change are as important as technological change.