Health Records are Going to the Cloud, Going Mobile, and the Feds Are Still Paying

3/2/11

The annual Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) just concluded the largest healthcare technology conference of the year with a record-breaking 31,225 attendees in Orlando, FL. The annual event includes the leading technology innovators and healthcare executives in the country. This year there were several distinct themes that will have an effect on any company or investor involved in healthcare. While themes like security and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are staples, the following three represent significant and newer market opportunities.

Meaningful Use: The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provides the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the authority to establish or promote IT initiatives and it’s well underway. The most visible initiatives are those involving cash reimbursements for adoption of electronic health records and efforts promoting health information exchanges—which was really sparked by the $19 billion set aside for this purpose in President Obama’s stimulus package two years ago. Under HITECH, eligible health care professionals and hospitals can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments (and eventually penalties for lack of adoption) when they adopt certified electronic health record (EHR) technology and use it to achieve specified objectives (“Meaningful Use”).

It was clear at the conference in Orlando that the angst over Stage 1 Meaningful Use has subsided since the stimulus package created the opportunity two years ago. But there is plenty of uncertainty going forward. There is both a transition from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of the federal EHR incentive program and uncertainty about direction, as national health IT coordinator Dr. David Blumenthal prepares to return to Harvard in April

EHR vendors in particular are anxious given they will have to begin modifying and recertifying their products to meet the next round of requirements. (All products certified under Stage 1 will have to be recertified to meet Stage 2 criteria.)

mHealth – Mobile: The ubiquitous presence of smart phones in clinical settings and now the onslaught of tablet computing has brought mobile health front and center. Among many mobile-focused events at the Orlando conference, FierceHealthIT held a packed breakfast panel presentation entirely focused on the use of mobile devices and applications by leading organizations such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and the U.S. Navy. The general consensus seems to be that providers are demanding access to their applications on mobile platforms and IT organizations must meet the demand. Concerns around security are very addressable as explained by Captain Robert Marshall, MD, the chief medical information officer of the Navy.

Cloud Computing: Cloud computing represents a growing shift in market attitudes about the increasing confidence in the Internet as the platform, versus traditional software installations and sizeable hardware management issues. Not only are several of the giant EHR vendors now offering a subscription-based cloud solution (General Electric, Emdeon) but companies like eMix and LifeImage continue to build traction in delivering medical imaging through the cloud.

2011 will see the vast majority of healthcare IT expenditures flow toward the three categories mentioned above. Meaningful Use and the chasing of federal dollars will eventually fade away, but the second two categories are likely going to have a strong market influence for the foreseeable future.

Tobin Arthur is the founder and CEO of Seattle-based iMedExchange. Follow @

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