Is the EHR market innovative?

Hospital IT executives told Becker's that while EHR vendors have begun to adopt innovative technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence, the industry has yet to make the transformative changes that healthcare needs.

"While the EHR market has made significant strides in recent years, it has yet to reach its full potential. Complex interfaces, a lack of interoperability, and the need for predictive analytics are just a few areas in need of improvement," Richmond, Ind.-based Reid Health CIO Muhammad Siddiqui told Becker's. "Enter the future of EHR innovation. Groundbreaking technologies like blockchain and machine learning hold the key to transforming healthcare delivery as we know it."

Some EHR vendors have turned toward partnerships with big tech to integrate AI tools within their software. In March, Epic announced it would begin using Microsoft's GPT-4 technology within its EHR offerings. Meditech expanded the focus of a partnership with Google from cloud-based medical records to include the development of large language models.

"The amount of change coming from generative AI technologies over the next 12 to 36 months is going to be extraordinary," said Will Landry, CIO of Baton Rouge, La.-based Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. "I believe Epic is very well positioned to take advantage of their partnership with Microsoft, and I'm keeping a close eye on what Google is doing with Meditech."

As Oracle is facing economic headwinds, the company has looked to revitalize its EHR offerings and develop in-house generative AI healthcare assistants.

"In diagnostics and decision-making, AI-powered 'co-pilot' type assistants are beginning to change the game," said Gonzalo Romero Lauro, associate CIO of Morgantown, W.Va.-based WVU Medicine. "These systems enhance providers' performance and offer mostly untapped capabilities to assist healthcare providers in making more accurate diagnoses and effective treatment decisions. But many solutions rely on external, not always well-integrated niche solutions."

To fight clinical burnout and reduce the amount of time clinicians spend note taking, EHR vendors have turned toward ambient listening technology. Meditech, Epic and Oracle have synced with Suki, a tool that ambiently listens to patient conversations and generates clinical notes.

"With generative AI and ambient listening, we start to see that providers can even automate the drafting of responses to patient messages, automatically draft encounter notes, summarize information or give voice commands to bring up relevant information and trigger actions," Mr. Lauro said. "But many of the solutions are still in very early stages and at a cost that many healthcare organizations may not be able to afford."

In August, Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare partnered with Google to focus on generative AI. Hospital IT leaders said that AI tools are increasingly becoming a necessity for healthcare. 

"While the healthcare industry faces unique hurdles, such as stringent regulations, the critical and obvious need for accuracy, and considerations surrounding the protection of protected health information, we are at a crucial inflection point," said Mr. Lauro. "The imperative to integrate these advanced technologies is fueled by the need to improve patient outcomes, streamline operational efficiencies, and maintain competitiveness in an increasingly competitive and more transparent marketplace. As we witness other sectors revolutionized by AI and automation, it's becoming not just 'nice to have' but essential for healthcare and EHR vendors to fast-track the innovation cycle."

Despite the excitement around AI technologies, some CIOs are concerned that the hype might overshadow other aspects of desperately needed EHR innovation. 

"The challenge is whether the innovation evenly spreads across all aspects of healthcare and how to filter out the noise to find those technologies and vendors who are actually going to bring solutions to market," said Darrell Bodnar, CIO of Whitefield, N.H.-based North Country Healthcare. "While there is an abundance of generative AI solutions flooding the market, EMR optimization and medical device security get much less attention. The balance always leans toward the profits and potential revenue."

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