In the next decade, many of the concepts aiming to streamline the healthcare industry could be reality. Technology such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and virtual reality make interoperability and automation possible, as tech giants and startups partner with hospitals and health systems to prevent medical episodes and lower healthcare costs.

“We are entering an era of massive innovation in healthcare to combat the rising costs of the last decade,” says Jay Samit, independent vice chair of digital reality for Deloitte. He says as patients begin to get more involved in their personal healthcare, providers will have even more data to make better decisions.

“Right now, we use smartphones to track our vitals and our steps, but when artificial intelligence is tied into the phone, it could tell you that you might have a heart attack in 30 days. You would take that seriously,” Samit says. “Healthcare currently happens after the event, and new technology will make it more preventive.”

Here are five of the top healthcare technologies that experts say will be commonplace in the next decade:

1. Blockchain technology

Finding secure and reliable ways to transmit sensitive data between stakeholders has been an issue in healthcare for years. But many experts are confident that blockchain technology applied to clinical and claims data will result in huge cost savings in the next decade.

“Everyone talks about big data, but there needs to be a longitudinal view of the data that sits in different silos. Blockchain enables that,” says Shahram Ebadollahi, chief science officer for IBM Watson Health.

In a blockchain, patient health records could include clinical, behavioral health, and payer information, and can be reviewed, stored and exchanged in a peer-to-peer transaction ledger. Because information is stored in blocks, rather than one file, this allows for the information to be used in clinical decision making or population health management. Patients can give unilateral permission to use portions of the data, and past information can be stored without being changed. This also allows for patient information to be used more widely for clinical trials without researchers having to get multiple layers of permissions.

Many big players in healthcare technology have been making headway into blockchain. IBM Watson Health is currently working with the CDC to identify uses for it and barriers for adoption. Their goal is to exchange different types of information including clinical trial data, genomic data and patient generated data, making it available to several stakeholders in a secure way. Deloitte has also submitted a whitepaper to the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology detailing how blockchain can be used to make health information exchanges more secure and interoperable. Gem, a startup blockchain provider, has also partnered with CDC to explore population health solutions.

Ebadollahi says the various uses for blockchain technology would impact supply chain sectors of healthcare, clinical trials, business, and clinical fields.

“We see an increase in the number of risk-shared, gain-shared contracts and there are penalties for those that don’t make their outcomes. There are different outcomes produced by various players, and blockchain is a way to keep track of the outcomes of various players. It will be a huge cost savings once it is adopted on a wide scale,” Ebadollahi says.

2. Intelligent interoperability

The industry is focusing on improving interoperability in efforts to utilize technology to break down silos between payers, providers and patients. But in the next five to 10 years, the concept of interoperability could become less about the transmission of data and more about how actionable it is.

Dave Lareau, CEO of Medicomp Systems, says that intelligent interoperability will help identify and interpret disorganized and complex data from multiple sources. High-value information can then be filtered as part of a provider’s work flow to support clinical decision-making in the exam room.

“With intelligent interoperability, providers don’t just have data, but actionable information that is structured and organized in a way that facilitates viewing across clinical settings and domains,” Lareau says. “Clinicians can access the precise information they need, when they need it, during patient encounters and within their normal work flows across the continuum of care.”

The large amount of data generated by EHR systems is often disorganized, redundant, in multiple formats, and therefore, unusable, Lareau says. “To achieve intelligent interoperability, providers need solutions that sift through this wealth of data, eliminate all the other clinical static, and make the right information available at the right time in the care process,” Lareau says. “Unless organizations have the ability to contextually filter data, physicians will struggle to identify the precise information that is relevant to each specific patient and their known or suspected clinical issues.”

The good news is that Lareau predicts that healthcare organizations will not have to replace their current EHR systems to achieve intelligent interoperability. Instead, interoperability standards including Fast Health Interoperability Resources and Clinical Document Architecture will require more seamless data exchange.

“For example, data that comes from another provider must be coded to a usable standard. One way to achieve this is by leveraging technology that intelligently identifies, interprets, and links medical concepts and maps them to standard nomenclature, such as ICD-10, SNOMED, RxNorm, or LOINC,” he says. “The data can then be easily merged with existing information and made actionable at the point of care. In addition, when clinicians create new data through the documentation process, they need tools that facilitate the capture of high quality data in structured formats that are easily exchanged and interpreted with minimal manual intervention.”

3.  Artificial intelligence

Though artificial intelligence (AI) is currently being used in both administrative and clinical functions, experts believe that the next decade could see the technology taking a more direct role in clinical decision making.

The use of AI to design treatment plans, manage medications, assist with repetitive administrative tasks, and promote predictive medicine could grow the AI technology market to more than $10 billion by 2024, according to a report by Accenture. The growth in AI in the next decade will also ease workforce deficits. Projected physician shortages have many healthcare organizations beefing up care teams with physician assistants and nurses, and AI could help those care teams with decision making, according to a report by Research and Markets.

Technology that enables AI can make genomics more accessible to care teams, and assist with chronic care management, Ebadollahi says.

“The role of artificial intelligence is to help practitioners sift through knowledge, publications, and hard to analyze data,” Ebadollahi says.

Ebadollahi adds that AI already has different adoption rates depending on the healthcare sector, but in the next five years the technology will be more commonplace in the hands of physicians and nurses as they diagnose and create treatment plans.

The use of more AI, and data in general, will also lead to new roles, says Ebadollahi. “On a healthcare team of physicians, nurses, and physician assistants, it won’t be a remote idea to have a data scientist as a part of the team.”

4. Increased automation

Streamlining claims and administrative processes would be a game changer to the industry. Billing and insurance-related administrative expenses cost more than $375 billion, accounting for about 15% of total healthcare costs in the United States, according to a 2015 report by BMC Health Services Research. A simplified billing system would not only save money, but it would push the industry toward being more in step with other automated consumer experiences.

Craig Kasten, cofounder of Skygen USA, says in the next decade, healthcare organizations that aren’t able to process claims and authorizations in the same day will be obsolete.

“During the next five to ten years, healthcare payers will either adopt new technologies and automated processes, or they will be replaced by competitors with lower costs that offer

innovative services and deliver a much better experience for both providers and patients,” Kasten says.

Reliance on paper and outdated technology can be tedious, slow, and increase vulnerabilities to data breeches, Kasten says.

“Health plans need technology solutions built with electronic communications and process automation as the foundation of the architectural design, rather than technology centered on

paper forms and manual processes, Kasten says, adding that newer systems need to have the capability to adapt to evolving technologies. “Many hospitals and health systems in particular are making investments in revenue cycle management technology in an effort to create greater efficiencies, reduce waste, and improve the member/provider experience. Incorporating automated claims submission, remittance advice, payments, etc., into those technologies will greatly increase the value of those investments and help them manage their cash flow more effectively–an important consideration given the challenges that come with the transition to value-based care coupled with ever-shrinking margins.”

Kasten says that real-time automated determinations and claims adjudication will result in more accurate and reliable claims payment, lower accounts receivable balances,more consistent revenue streams with faster and easier daily reconciliation, and reduced reliance on collection agencies to pursue unpaid patient bills and unpaid claims from insurers.

Health plans will benefit from significantly fewer calls from providers seeking claims status and payment information, fewer duplicate claims submissions, fewer denied and resubmitted claims, higher provider satisfaction, a better experience for patients, and higher productivity and lower administrative costs as same-day accounting and reimbursement encourages providers to abandon paper and engage in electronic relationships.

“To achieve the best outcomes with the lowest costs, health plans must invest in modern technologies that seamlessly automate routine administrative functions, while streamlining processes that do require human judgement, such as instantly providing a full, online view into patient treatment history, allowing clinicians to make medical necessity determinations efficiently and accurately,” Kasten says.

The daily use of virtual and augmented reality with practitioners is coming within the next 10 years, says Samit.

“If the engine is artificial intelligence and blockchain, augmented and virtual reality are the interfaces that make the technology accessible,” Samit says.

“I don’t imagine a world where a doctor is sitting at his desk doing all of this,” he says. Instead, he predicts that physicians will use more virtual reality, for example, wearing a pair of glasses that captures the encounter and ensures compliance, record keeping, and patient privacy.

“Augmented reality glasses can be worn by doctors and someone can listen in on their meetings and take notes. At the end of their rounds, everything is typed up, medications are noted, conflicts have been researched, questions have been answered. Everyone on the care team will have the latest and greatest knowledge, and it helps the doctor be more educated,” Samit says.

In fact, Samit thinks glasses and holographic technology could flood the healthcare market within the next two years, due to its efficiency and the better health outcomes produced.

Augmented and virtual reality technology can also be used in operations where the surgeon is in another location guiding robotics to perform surgeries. It can also be used in the operating room as surgeons wear headgear and glasses that can show 3D images of a patient’s tumor to be removed.

“Today, we are seeing great imaging, but it is useless to see 2-dimensional images when you can see 3-dimensional images hovering above your patient in the operating room,” Samit says.

Another use for virtual reality: combatting the opioid epidemic. Samit calls this use for it “mechanized medication,” citing studies that assert that patients who are distracted from their pain using virtual reality leave hospitals sooner and have less use for pain medication. A 2016 study conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that patients experience 24% less pain within 10 minutes of viewing virtual reality experiences including ocean exploration, Cirque du Soleil, and tours of Iceland.

Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio. This column originally was published in Modern Medicine February 2, 2018.

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