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Big Data, EHR Driving Healthcare IT Innovation

By Brian Eastwood, CIO
December 05, 2012 11:05 AM ET

CIO - Healthcare IT adoption in the United States today is largely defined by requirements to demonstrate the meaningful use of electronic heath record software by 2014.

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Gartner says that EHR adoption is a "trigger" for data analytics, improved care management and other innovations. However, these initiatives will take time, the analyst firm notes in a recent report, "Hype Cycle for Healthcare Provider Applications and Systems."

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This type of innovation is not necessarily unique to the healthcare industry, says Vi Shaffer, a Gartner analyst and the hype cycle report's primary author. Retailers, for example, are also placing an increased emphasis on customer engagement and data processing technology. The difference, she says, is both the complexity of the data--think of an intensive care unit (ICU), where information about patient vital signs, drug dosages and even room temperature is constantly updated and sent to the computer at the nurses' station--and the fact that, until recently, all this information was only on paper.

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A "revolution" has defined the last 10 years of healthcare IT, Shaffer says. It has come in two forms: the digitization of patient information and the constant engagement of physicians, clinicians and other caregivers with computers. The result for many healthcare organizations has been the largest investment in IT they've ever made, she says.

Meaningful use, which went into effect in 2011 and penalizes providers who aren't using EHR systems by the start of 2015, has also motivated many reluctant providers to adopt EHR technology. As a result, third-generation EHR systems, which Gartner describes as providing automated support for acute care and ambulatory clinical activities, have moved from "nice-to-have" to "must-have" status.

Meanwhile, other federal mandates, including healthcare reform, should in turn stimulate changes in the way EHR systems work, Gartners says. To improve the flow of patient data--and increase market share--EHR vendors will have to integrate their software with numerous clinical systems, ranging from emergency department and critical care information systems to perioperative and anesthesia charting applications.

"All of these opportunities are triggered by the fact that we have this big mass of clinical data," Shaffer says. There are different views among physicians on the benefits of analytics, she adds, but the general dynamic boils down to three key questions: "What do I do with all this data? How do I use it for true clinical research? How do I use it to study the effectiveness of my care?"

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When it comes to ROI, the Gartner hype cycle report names several technologies worth a look for healthcare organizations now.

Big data. This may take time to implement, but it will have a "transformational" benefit, Gartner says, and organizations that implement all facets of big data by 2015 can expect to start to outperform their competitors by as much as 20 percent.

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