Many of the anticipated trends for healthcare technology in 2023 came to fruition leading to new opportunities, and solutions to consider in 2024. Last year saw deployment of the cloud for optimized access, reliability, and, in some cases, improved total cost of ownership. Predictive analytics made progress especially by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make sense of volumes of data, and attracting and retaining talent remained a top challenge for HIT teams everywhere. Furthermore, the last twelve months saw narrow margins combined with the demand to support operations and innovation within the same budget as 2022. What is 2024 expected to hold for HIT teams? What is expected to improve, and what will continue to be top of mind for organizations? Consider these:
Strategic Use of AI Gains Trust and Traction Along with Understanding of Risks
Our collective industry had a tremendous year leaping forward with one key technology that is likely to modernize so much of our lives - Artificial Intelligence (AI). We have not seen a major impact such as the one that generative AI (type of AI that can generate its own content) will have since perhaps the launch of smart phones or the deployment of the World Wide Web to the public.
But, how is AI translating in the healthcare industry? For one thing, and as it is with many new, exciting and functional technologies, the front-line team members (be it doctors or clinicians) started using AI as soon as the platforms became available. Granted, some of these activities were risky and most CIOs were playing catch up to establish some guardrails around the use of AI, especially in clinical settings. Now we are seeing some of the advanced EHR vendors such as Epic launching clinical AI workflows and planning to do a lot more in the near future.
Risks exist but as we get more comfortable with some aspects of AI and use them more broadly, we develop a more evolved understanding of the risks and the potential. Combine reports like that of the Associated Press on AI “hallucinations” with the earlier understood risks and we see: The challenge for CIOs is to quickly establish governance and institutionalize it because use cases for AI in healthcare are here and more will follow. Risk mitigation will be imperative and considered a CIO’s responsibility.
Expansion of the Influence - and Responsibilities – of CIOs
CIOs are becoming more operationalized and other C-suite members are more technologically savvy. This maturation was definitely expected and in 2023 we started to see this take hold in our industry. CIOs are taking on challenges that are no longer limited to the world of IT and are expanding their sphere of influence over staff shortages, operational efficiencies, revenue cycle and clinical workflow optimization. And why not? The impact of technologies such as generative AI, advanced analytics, and process automation can have a dramatic impact on the efficiency and satisfaction of our fellow colleagues. By the same token, tech savvy executives are being promoted to chief digital and innovation officers and even the more traditional roles such as CMO, CFO, COO and CEO are taking on IT challenges that can benefit their domains.
The big question is do we still need CIOs in the future or does that role slowly fade into these other roles? My assumption, and all the evidence, points to the CIO role is here to stay and it will continue to morph and become more valuable. As we become more sophisticated in our collection and manipulation of large data sets, use of large language models (AI programs that use large amounts of data for deep learning and leverage natural language processing), and other advanced technologies, we will need CIOs to guide our companies appropriately.
New Data Analytics Capabilities for Care Improvements
As for data and integration, in 2024 and beyond we should see more effort put forth for collection of data, especially on the major cloud providers’ platforms, and advanced analytics against this data will produce a variety of results. We will see special applications to manage and improve population health, assist in the transition to value based care, and even assist with diagnosis and treatment of complex illnesses. Access to the data and the ability to manipulate the large amounts of data for further improvements in the health industry is perhaps the number one reason for the large mergers and acquisitions that we have witnessed over the past few months and those efforts will start to show dividends in the near future.
Partnership Solutions Can Address Lingering Staffing Issues
As one great CIO said, “Having a low staff turnover rate is just as bad as having a high one.” A low turnover rate may mean keeping some resources too long and compromising innovation. At the same time, having a high turnover may harm retention of valuable institutional knowledge. For the C-suite in small rural hospitals, attracting the right talent at their health systems’ general human resource salary bands may not be conducive to recruiting hard-to-find expertise.
For these reasons and others, organizations have turned to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to remedy some of these challenges. MSPs may not necessarily solve all the problems as many offshore their resources making communication, intellectual capital retention, and other factors more challenging. In addition, their potentially strict Service and Operating Level Agreements (SLA and OLA) may hinder the flexibility that organizations need to have their needs met.
Finding the right partner is important and having the proper agreement and mutual incentives are key to addressing the challenges. While the challenges of healthcare IT don’t necessarily go away by shifting work to a partner, the right MSP partnership will leverage industry-wide knowledge to help organizations manage their specific complexities.
Other Areas for Consideration
While the aforementioned may be top of mind, we also anticipate:
2024: An Active Year with Promising Opportunities
With signs of a softening economy especially in the first half of 2024, key investments in the areas discussed here will continue and drive a healthy set of activities in our industry. Where there are challenges, there are opportunities, and healthcare IT is an exciting place to be.