5 emerging trends in health IT for 2022

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Hospitals, health systems and patients continued to fuel and embrace evolutions in health IT this year amid steady industry growth and adaptations to new challenges.  

Here are five health IT trends CIOs are watching for next year, from digital health advancements to innovation and cybersecurity. 

1. Digital health funding shatters records. Digital health startups raised $21.3 billion during the first three quarters of 2021, surpassing 2020's total-year funding record of $14.6 billion, according to an October Rock Health report. Some of the largest health systems in the U.S. invested in digital health companies and projects this year, including Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, St. Louis-based Ascension and Renton, Wash.-based Providence. 

Earlier this year, Ascension's healthcare venture arm launched a $285 million strategic venture capital fund, which brought the firm's total assets to more than $1 billion. And in May, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente and Mayo Clinic made a joint investment in Medically Home Group, a Boston-based tech services company that powers "hospital-at-home" programs. 

2. Telehealth use fluctuates. Telehealth use remained on the upswing in 2021 compared with before the pandemic, but rates fluctuated among patients this year as states cut emergency declarations meant to make virtual care more accessible. In December, healthcare cost data organization Fair Health reported that telehealth use among individuals with private health insurance grew 2 percent from August to September, comprising 4.4 percent of all medical claim lines. The uptick followed an ongoing decline in telehealth use in June and July. 

Patient satisfaction with telehealth also decreased this year, with 43 percent of patients reporting higher satisfaction with live video virtual care compared to in-person interactions, according to a December Rock Health report. For the same analysis in 2020, 53 percent of patients reported greater satisfaction with telehealth versus in-person care. 

CMS made regulatory moves to keep telehealth expansions in place, including paying for mental health telehealth visits conducted by rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers outside the COVID-19 public health emergency. The agency in November also extended the list of telehealth services temporarily covered by Medicare during the PHE through Dec. 31, 2023. 

3. Hospitals ramp up protections against evolving cyberattacks. Hospital and health system CIOs and chief information security officers navigated escalating cybersecurity threats this year as the healthcare industry faced a record number of attacks. Since January 2020, almost 40 ransomware gangs have attacked hospitals, health systems and other providers, according to a recent CyberPeace Institute report. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyberattacks have not only become more frequent but more sophisticated. Kathy Hughes, vice president and CISO at Northwell Health, told the Wall Street Journal in December that the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based health system has had to adapt to the "onslaught of attacks" this year by rolling out new technologies to mitigate threats such as email phishing attempts. 

CISOs have also expressed the need for other measures to reduce cybersecurity vulnerability. Leaders pointed to grants and/or federal assistance as the leading resources for helping deal with cybersecurity issues, followed by readily available guidance from on-hand cybersecurity experts, according to an October College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Security survey. 

4. Multibillion-dollar health IT acquisitions come into play. This year saw some of the biggest health IT company mergers and acquisitions to date as players such as Microsoft and Oracle looked to deepen their healthcare presence. In March, Micorosoft unveiled plans to expand its health offerings by scooping up speech recognition company Nuance Communications in an all-cash deal valued at $19.7 billion; the transaction is expected to close by the end of 2021. 

EHR companies Cerner and Athenahealth also became involved in acquisition activity toward the end of the year. On Dec. 20, Oracle and Cerner announced their joint agreement for Oracle to buy Cerner for $28.3 billion, making the Kansas City, Mo.-based EHR company a dedicated business unit within Oracle. In November, Watertown, Mass.-based Athenahealth said it will be jointly acquired by private equity firms Hellman & Friedman and Bain Capital for $17 billion. The deal is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022. 

5. Innovation initiatives accelerate. Several hospitals and health systems across the U.S. pushed innovation projects to the forefront in 2021, from launching digital health companies to rolling out tech-based hospital-at-home initiatives. 

Kaiser Permanente and Mayo Clinic in October launched the Advanced Care at Home Coalition to advocate for the support of hospital-level care-at-home flexibilities after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare and Ascension also tackled hospital-at-home innovation through a new collaboration with Amazon Care that aims to support and update healthcare policy changes that designate the home as a site of clinical service. 

Numerous health systems this year expanded innovation efforts outside their organizations to spin off new health IT companies. UPMC in June formed AI and natural language processing company Realyze Intelligence, and a group of 14 health systems including Trinity Health and Northwell teamed up to form Truveta, a de-identified clinical data platform that pools information on participating care sites to glean insights on medical conditions such as COVID-19. The platform went live in November and has raised $200 million to continue building out its capabilities.

 

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