7 Health IT Takeaways From SxSW

During the Interactive portion of the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, which wrapped up Tuesday, healthcare and technology leaders discussed the future of care delivery.

Seven main themes emerged over five days of panels, presentations and discussions.

1. Healthcare is behind the technology curve, but can't be for long. Healthcare is one of the few industries where technology has not yet been able to bring costs down or do away with old-model inefficiencies, said Pat Basu, MD, CMO of telemedicine vendor Doctor on Demand. Additionally, the patients of the (not so distant) future will expect to be able to use technology to take on a greater role in their care and be able to connect with physicians through modern communication channels, said seed accelerator Y Combinator's Paul Graham.

2. Patients will be more connected than ever. Monitoring devices will literally connect patients to their healthcare providers, sending a stream of data to providers. Patients will also add more self-tracked and self-monitored data to their health records, making patients more active participants in their own care, according to Jeffrey Benabio, MD, physician director of healthcare transformation at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanante. Connecting patients more closely with their health information can also help steer patients toward healthier behaviors, according to a panel discussion.

3. Virtual health will play a larger role in patient care. Siri-like avatars are currently playing a support role in healthcare. In the future, the use of such artificial intelligence will most likely expand to provide more cost-efficient care and ease the effects of the looming physician shortage, though questions remain about the quality of care provided and privacy and security issues, according to a panel discussion.

4. Everyone will move to the cloud. The sheer amount of data the modern organization collects will soon render in-house servers and other traditional IT infrastructures impractical. Cloud-based services offer the best storage solutions, though CIOs should consider an internal cloud that can have the same financial benefits while sitting securely behind a firewall, according to Adam Carter, director of project management at SolidFire.

5. The digital bubble is about to burst. In recent years, a staggering amount of money has been funneled into health IT startups as investors recognize the potential of technology to transform healthcare. However, many of these new companies lack a truly innovative product or a solid business plan, and many will fail, according to a panel of health IT experts and investors.

6. Health IT must respect physicians' decision-making. Clinical decision support and similar technology is placing an objective, evidence-based way of making decisions into the hands of physicians. However, physicians' decision-making often takes other criteria into consideration, such as their own experience or the patient's wishes. CDS and other aids therefore must allow for a flexible model of decision-making, according to Aimee Roundtree, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Houston-Downtown.  

7. Open data is key for healthcare innovation. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have embraced data transparency as a way to improve clinical quality while finding efficiencies in care delivery. By continuing to make as much information as possible available to entrepreneurs, patients and healthcare professionals, representatives from HHS and the National Health Service in the U.K. described how they hope to continue to foster innovation in the healthcare space.

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