10 of the biggest developments in health IT so far in 2018

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The first half of 2018 has been ripe with massive health IT mergers and acquisitions, digital health deals, tech giants surging into healthcare and major controversies between EHR vendors.

Here are 10 of the biggest health IT stories reported by Becker's Hospital Review so far this year:

1. GE says goodbye to its healthcare business

In late June, GE revealed plans to spin off its healthcare business into a standalone enterprise. The day of its announcement, the company's shares surged 7.76 percent, marking GE's strongest day since April 2015. GE now plans to focus on aviation, power and renewable energy, but will continue to run GE Healthcare as usual until the spinoff is completed.

2. Apple in healthcare

The iPhone-maker enabled patients at select hospitals to store their EHRs on their smartphones via the Apple Health Records feature. Hundreds of hospitals now partake in the program. In other health-related Apple headlines, the company said it planned to launch a group of primary health clinics for its own employees and their families by spring 2018. The group, AC Wellness, hasn't yet updated its website with additional information about the project's progress.

3. IBM's Watson Health debacle

IBM laid off an undisclosed number of employees from its Watson Health division — including employees from three acquired companies, Explorys, Phytel and Truven Health Analytics — just before the Memorial Day holiday. The former employees alleged IBM leadership failed to foresee the challenges of aggregating data from hospitals, and Watson Health couldn't meet the promised deadlines on a number of client projects. Moreover, the employees said overlapping divisions and mismanagement of projects fostered internal competition. Shortly after the layoffs, IBM Watson Health leadership reportedly told employees it plans to refocus its business strategy, which includes cutting down some of its work with hospital clients

4. A lot on Epic's plate

Epic, whose founder and CEO Judy Faulkner was recently named the third-richest self-made U.S. woman by Forbes, has had quite the start to 2018. In March, James Hereford, the president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services, criticized the EHR vendor and called its system an "impediment to innovation." Shortly thereafter, in an unrelated incident, vandals caused thousands of dollars of damages to an Epic building. The company was also wrapped up in a debate with rival EHR vendor Cerner over a contract awarded by the Chicago-based University of Illinois Health. Cerner alleged the contract process was tainted by a conflict of interest, but the dispute was resolved in late May when the board sided with Epic. During the same month, Epic came out victorious in the Supreme Court decision over individual employee arbitration contracts. The health tech giant saw two other big projects in the first half of 2018: Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health announced it would transition all of its hospitals, ambulatory care centers, physician offices and continuing care programs to Epic's EHR and revenue cycle management system, and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic rolled out an Epic upgrade fraught with drama over the third-party contracting firm HCI Group, which the health system had hired to help with the implementation.

5. Pricey EHR plans and implications

Hospital systems have spent significant funds on EHR implementations so far this year. In July, Seattle-based UW Medicine's finance and asset management committee approved a $180-million plan for a 30-monthslong endeavor to replace its Cerner and Epic EHRs with a single, integrated platform. Other hospitals, like Odessa, Texas-based Ector Hospital District, have blamed recent bond downgrades on costs associated with EHR implementations.

6. Amazon makes a big health push

Amazon has made numerous strides into the health sector during the first half of 2018. Its entry became clear when it announced a new healthcare company with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase in January. The online retailer has reportedly consider selling medical devices and over-the-counter healthcare products on its website. Amazon has also reportedly built a team within its Alexa division to explore ways to make the virtual assistant, which is powered by artificial intelligence, more useful in healthcare. One of Amazon's latest healthcare efforts occurred in June, with the company's acquisition of online pharmacy startup PillPack for about $1 billion.

7. VA's ambitions with Cerner

In May, the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded Cerner a long-awaited 10-year, $10 billion contract to overhaul the agency's legacy EHR system. The first go-live is slated for 2020. Just before the contract was announced, however, a scathing Department of Defense report called its Cerner EHR "neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable." Cerner President Zane Burke responded to the report, calling it "fake news" that may have involved "one of our competitors."

8. Changes looming for athenahealth?

Athenahealth co-founder Jonathan Bush resigned as president, CEO and member of the company's board in June. His departure followed an unsolicited all-cash offer made by investment management firm Elliott Management to purchase athenahealth for nearly $7 billion. Athenahealth is still mulling over the potential sale.

9. Costly data breach damage

HHS' Office for Civil Rights cracked down on the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after two data breaches that occurred in 2012 and 2013, slapping the hospital with $4,348,000 in civil penalties for HIPAA violations related to its encryption policies. That's just one of three hefty HIPAA fines imposed so far in 2018. In other cybersecurity news, Allscripts is facing repercussions after a January ransomware attack that cut off numerous clients' access to their Professional EHR's services and electronic prescribing of controlled substances systems. Specifically, the Chicago-based EHR vendor is seeking dismissal or arbitration for a class-action lawsuit stemming from that ransomware attack.

10. Competition heats up in the direct-to-consumer genetic testing market

23andMe filed a lawsuit against its top competitor in the direct-to-consumer genealogy market, Ancestry.com, in a California federal district court in May. 23andMe alleged Ancestry.com infringed on its patented method for identifying a customer's relatives based on a DNA sample. The intellectual property lawsuit focuses on whether Ancestry.com uses 23andMe's methods for returning results — such as the company's confidence in potential relatives — to its customers.

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