Technology will play an increasingly important and evolutionary role in all corners of healthcare. Those who embrace it will excel, while those who don’t will struggle to survive. Click To Tweet2017 was a year dominated by news of emerging technologies and regulatory challenges that had (and will continue to have) a profound impact on the healthcare industry – spurring major tech companies like Uber and Apple to enter the space, a flurry of mergers and acquisitions, and, in some ways, more questions than answers about how digital health tools are defined and deployed.
Among the more noteworthy happenings / takeaways of 2017 – all with implications for 2018 – were:
1. Regulatory changes, competition & pricing pressures inspired some surprising M&A.
One of the biggest deals to shake up the healthcare industry came in December 2017: The proposed $69 billion merger of CVS and Aetna stands to revolutionize the consumer healthcare experience and, in turn, threaten major hospital operators and primary care practices that aren’t ready, willing, and able to evolve.
The call for 2018: For newly merged organizations, there is a tremendous opportunity to scale digital health innovation efforts to benefit even more patients. For everyone else, digital transformation must be a priority in 2018, with a laser focus on operational efficiency and engagement (i.e. technology that helps reduce costs, improve outcomes, and encourage patient acquisition and retention).
2. Big tech wanted to play doctor, too.
2017 saw big tech companies, including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Uber, setting their sights on healthcare, begging the question, “In the near future, could American consumers find themselves logging into Amazon Healthcare Prime to order a prescription or asking Alexa for medical advice?”
The call for 2018: The entry of non-traditional, powerhouse players into the healthcare space will create both challenges and opportunities. On the challenges side: The further retailization of healthcare will continue to heighten expectations around customer service, patient engagement, and cost and quality transparency. On the opportunities side: Big tech companies bring with them access to and insights around emerging technologies, like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – calling to mind the old adage: A rising tide lifts all boats.
3. Digital health became more mainstream.
Significant progress was made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017, as it continued its work to draw the line between digital health tools that are regulated as “devices” and those that are not. In a similar vein, CMS took steps to encourage patient activation by validating the importance of keeping physicians and patients in contact through appropriate sharing of patient-generated health data.
The takeaway for 2018: There is still much to be decided and, even once finalized and clear, much to be considered by healthcare providers and health IT vendors navigating the so-called IoMT space. To effectively design, develop, validate, and launch a digital health tool will require clear understanding of regulations, specifications, application requirements, and end user needs – all the while shooting at a bit of a moving target.
4. Cyberthreats were the topic of much conversation (and with good reason).
U.S. hospitals were among the most talked about victims of WannaCry, Petya and NotPetya malware / ransomware attacks in 2017, because they resulted in the crippling of computers that led to problems ranging from mass appointment cancellations to the diversion of ambulances. But publically traded healthcare companies, including drug company Merck, took big (financial) hits, too – forcing the entire healthcare industry, from providers and pharma to device manufacturers and payers, to rethink cybersecurity.
The takeaway for 2018: A proactive approach to security must be a priority in 2018. Begin with these three steps: 1.) Conduct a comprehensive security audit to evaluate and identify gaps in processes and procedures. 2.) Commit to making security a part of your culture. 3.) Develop an emergency response plan – and review and update it regularly.
Yes, many of the changes and challenges that made 2017 a memorable year for healthcare also provide important indicators of what we can expect in 2018. The big picture takeaway? Technology will play an increasingly important and evolutionary role in all corners of healthcare. Those who embrace it will excel, while those who don’t will struggle to survive.
David Karabinos is CEO of PointClear Solutions, a technology consulting company that specializes in providing software strategy, design, development, and management services for the healthcare industry.
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