Industry Voices—Sizing up 4 opportunities for digital transformation in healthcare

3D printing is among the more promising new technologies in heatlhcare. (Getty/Scharfsinn86)

Organ transplants are one of the most daunting medical procedures. Thousands of people wait for the right size, shape and donor. Many die without the right organ match.

But imagine the possibilities when doctors can create an organ to match the recipient so closely that many of today’s transplant risks become obsolete. We’re fast approaching this moment as technology continues to push up toward what was unimaginable in the past.

One of the prominent questions in healthcare IT these days is how technology can be used to improve patient outcomes and drive better business results. There are some technologies on the horizon that promise to do just that – but what’s hype and what’s likely in the next few years?

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According to ISACA’s recently released 2018 Digital Transformation Barometer, some of the most hyped technology also is perceived to hold the highest risk and the highest potential benefit. Public cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data all are noted as potentially risky and rewarding. Other emerging or immature technologies of interest to ISACA respondents include blockchain, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing, among others.

ISACA’s global survey respondents are excited about these emerging technologies and their potential to change the future landscape of IT. At the same time, there are a lot of unknowns, and the security of these technologies is a top concern, as it should be.

Here's a look at some of these technologies and how they can be used to successfully transform healthcare organizations and patient outcomes.

Blockchain

Blockchain in healthcare is beginning to gain traction for several reasons. Medical records and healthcare transactions often involve multiple parties and numerous transactions. Blockchain has the potential to secure these by creating indelible authentications of these transactions, enabling data to be shared more quickly, easily and securely across the continuum of healthcare.

RELATED: Blockchain in healthcare: 3 promising use cases in a sea of skepticism

This is just one instance of using blockchain in healthcare, but it poses a significant potential benefit for patients and providers alike. This is an emerging area of technology in the healthcare sector that will continue to see investment and innovation in the coming years. Of course, the challenge will be coordination across EHR vendors and technology providers to develop a workable process. It’s certainly possible, but significant barriers remain.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things has been hyped for years and some of the promise has come to bear: Patients can use smartphones to monitor their blood sugar levels, heart rates and rhythms, and more. Patients can get eye exams via an app. Digital thermometers can send their results via Bluetooth.

The list of IoT devices continues to expand. But there are very significant security risks that need to be addressed in the healthcare arena before these devices should be widely deployed.

Many IoT devices are designed for consumer benefit without a thought to security, and that must be addressed before any IoT solution is implemented in healthcare, where lives are literally at stake.

However, when properly implemented and secured, IoT technologies can bridge the distance between providers and patients and allow for better, more individualized care at a fraction of the cost. A recent study of seniors found that many were comfortable using home monitoring technology in conjunction with telehealth visits with their provider to monitor chronic conditions. This approach holds significant potential for lowering the cost of care while extending it to those most in need in a fast, convenient and reliable manner.

IoT devices have tremendous potential, so we need makers of these technologies to pay attention to security as these solutions evolve and new ones emerge.

Big data, artificial intelligence

Big data has been used increasingly in healthcare both for population health (how to manage diabetes more effectively in a community, for example), as well as within the healthcare provider setting. Data compiled from across a large swath of patients can help pave the way to reducing length of stay (which benefits both the patient and the provider), reduce infection rates, and improve clinical outcomes.

Healthcare is gaining ground in the use of big data and, in some organizations, it’s being tied to machine learning and artificial intelligence to further the understanding of the data organizations are collecting and managing. By discerning deeper patterns an establishing cause/effect relationships, more effective healthcare can be provided, improving patient outcomes.

3D printing

Finally, let’s go back to where we started – 3D printing. It’s a low-security risk, but incredibly high potential.

As 3D printing technology advances, the possibilities for organ replacement, advanced prosthetics and more is edging closer to reality. The ability to grow organs for those who desperately need them is a technology that is truly transformative in so many ways.

In healthcare, as in the broader business world, IT professionals need to balance the evolving needs of the organization to do more – better, faster, cheaper – with the need to secure the environment and manage risk. It’s an incredibly challenging environment to operate in, but the opportunity to make a difference is what captures our imaginations and drives us to explore these new technologies to benefit our patients and our organizations.

Susan Snedaker is the director of infrastructure and operations at Tucson Medical Center. 

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