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8 Ways Healthcare Technology is Changing Clinical Practice

By Debra Wood, contributor

Healthcare technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, altering how clinicians practice—from delivering patient care to documentation.

Here is a look at some of the up-and-coming technologies in healthcare that could influence physician jobs and work opportunities for advanced practitioners.

New Technologies in Healthcare: 8 Top Trends

1. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI), computers learning to think more like people, is making its way into healthcare technology. Algorithms draw on data to allow computers to perform specific tasks.

“It’s one of the most powerful technologies we have at our disposal,” said David West, CEO and founder of Proscia, which uses AI to identify patterns on pathology slides. “The application to pathology is a massive opportunity.”

Pathologists are in short supply. They will still make the final report, but the computer assistance may allow each pathologist to read more slides.

“This change is happening fast,” West said. “What is possible is still working its way into the commercial sphere.”

According to the Top of Mind 2018 Health IT Trends Report from the Center for Connected Medicine and the Health Management Academy, more than half of healthcare systems plan or have implemented AI health technology, yet 63 percent of health system executives said it was a low priority. Most of those organizations deploying AI use it for clinical decision support.

2. Telehealth and virtual visits

Telehealth and virtual visits are expected to grow as reimbursements become more common. During the 2017-2018 flu season, several hospitals were referring patients to virtual visits.

The Top of Mind report indicated 79 percent of responding facilities use telehealth for stroke and 58 percent for psychology. Seventy-five percent indicate they implemented telehealth to improve quality and safety. Additionally, the report said only 39 percent get paid for virtual visits, but they hope that will increase moving forward.

On July 12, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced their proposal for a new rule that includes paying for virtual visits. The rule would allow patients to text photos to their physicians for evaluation, and Medicare-covered telehealth services would include prolonged preventive services.

"Medicare will start paying for virtual check-ins," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said during the press call. She pointed out that these virtual visits are intended to augment office visits, but not replace them.

RELATED: Telemedicine Trends in 2018

3. Patient-generated data and remote monitoring

The Top of Mind report found 100 percent of health care systems surveyed planned to promote health and wellness apps, yet only 17 percent expect those apps to provide valuable data.

Patients wear Fitbits and Apple Watches, tracking their steps. Others electronically monitor sleep and diet. Apps, such as AliveCor, allow patients to take a medical grade electrocardiogram with their smartphone. Data from some of these tools can be sent to the provider, giving insight into the patient’s condition but also adding to a clinician’s workload.

4. Robots

Robots already can talk. Some could be programmed to remind patients to take their medicine or their daily weight. Other robots may be able to help nurses lift patients. Robots already deliver medications, supplies and linens in some hospitals. And robots are becoming more accepted by patients, who often have one to vacuum their houses.           

In the future, “robots will take on attributes of personal assistants like Alexa, able to interact and follow voice commands,” said Ronnie Vuine, co-founder and CEO of Micropsi-Industries, a robotics software company in Berlin, Germany. “We anticipate robotic assistants will soon be able to help the elderly or disabled, a growing challenge for nearly every country, since there aren’t enough people to serve as healthcare aides.”

5. Genomic medicine

Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania plans on sequencing patients’ DNA as a preventive health measure. That DNA may indicate an increased risk of certain diseases and provide physicians with information to anticipate patient’s needs. For instance, physicians have detected cancers earlier in Geisinger patients participating in the program.

More than half of respondents to the Top of Mind survey, 57 percent, report using or planning to offer genomic testing and personalized medicine.

6. Micro-hospitals

Micro-hospitals are small, freestanding inpatient facilities with some of the latest healthcare technology, cropping up in numerous locations. Physician jobs may include treating patients in these small hospitals, primarily located in fast-growing areas, according to The ERCI Institute’s 2018 Top 10 Hospital C-suite Watch List.

Emerus, which touts itself as “The nation’s leading developer of micro-hospitals,” operates 28 such facilities in Texas, Nevada and Colorado, employs about 1,850 people and has served more than 1 million patients.

7. Computer-assisted clinical documentation improvement

Improving clinical documentation can result in greater reimbursement and quality data. Computer-aided systems, such as those from ChartWise Medical Systems, can leave physicians more time for patients.

Acute-care cardiologist Jon Elion, MD, founder of ChartWise, said he knows before he leaves the house in the morning which patients have been admitted to the hospital. It helps him prioritize his day.

ChartWise queries physicians about information in an electronic health record (EHR) that is not noted in the doctor progress notes. Coders cannot code a diagnosis unless it is in those notes. The coder can ask for clarification. When the physician answers, the information is added to the record.

“It doesn’t just help reimbursement,” Elion said. “It helps you figure out how sick the patients are.”

8. Specialized EHRs

While the big electronic-documentation vendors have made tremendous inroads, the market has expanded to include more niche players, with systems tailored to specific types of practices. One example is T-System for emergency departments and urgent care, where physicians have little or no historical information about the patient.

“Information sharing with the patient and future care providers is enhanced through integrated capabilities,” said Robert Hitchcock, MD, FACEP, executive vice president and general manager of documentation for T-System. “Efficient and accurate care documentation and decision-making is enhanced through streamlined user interfaces and clinical decision support tool integration into clinical workflows.”

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