The Future of Healthcare: Interview with IDC’s Lynne Dunbrack

Healthcare is an industry notorious for change, and 2018 will bring about even more. New technologies and innovations can help providers navigate a new era of digital transformation. A recent report, “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Health Industry 2018 Predictions,” sheds light on the latest innovations and provides guidance on how healthcare organizations can take advantage of emerging technologies.

I recently spoke with Lynne Dunbrack, research vice president for IDC Health Insights and one of the report’s authors, about their predictions. In addition to managing a group of analysts who provide research-based advisory and consulting services, Dunbrack leads the IDC Health Insights’ Connected Health IT Strategies program.

Below are the highlights from our conversation.

IDC publishes its FutureScape reports for different industries every year. How do you develop these reports?

Lynne Dunbrack - IDC
Lynne Dunbrack

As a starting point, IDC’s analyst teams discuss their predictions for “Innovation Accelerators”—technologies that are two, five, and 10 years out, like next-generation security, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, augmented reality and virtual reality, robotics, and artificial intelligence and machine learning. We also get a lot of great insight from ongoing conversations with our end-user and tech supplier customers, various committees we participate in, and IDC and industry surveys.

Usually, we end up with 15 or so predictions and prioritize them based on which ones are going to be most impactful for each industry. In “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Health Industry 2018 Predictions,” we do this across the entire health spectrum: payers and providers, value-based healthcare organizations, and life sciences.

Your predictions focus a lot on the impact of digitalization. How do you think digitalization will reshape the healthcare industry?

There’s more digital information in healthcare today than ever before. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided an impetus for healthcare to collect digital data about patients across the healthcare ecosystem.

Now that healthcare organizations have more data, they can share that information with the appropriate security and privacy provisions in place. This improves the patient experience, and it’s critical in situations where patients can’t speak for themselves. If someone gets into a serious accident and is taken to the emergency room, a doctor can look up the patient’s information to see a history of medications, allergies, and medical conditions. The patient can then receive better care, because before it would have taken hours, days, or weeks for a complete medical record to be assembled.

Additionally, we are now able to better connect consumers to the healthcare system to share data. IDC predicts that by 2020, 25 percent of medical data will be generated by patients from sensors, such as those in phones or wearables. We’ll see an increase in physicians recommending these devices to their patients, such as those with diabetes or hypertension who can use a connected device to monitor their vital signs on a regular basis.

There are a lot of opportunities to digitally transform how we provide care, and not all visits must be in person. As consumers get more comfortable with technology, they may start expecting on-demand, virtual experiences from their physicians and clinicians. Being able to seek those services online in a private setting will also be more attractive for certain populations of patients. For example, it can be challenging for military veterans to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder because they don’t want to be judged by others. A virtual experience could help them overcome that worry.

What do you predict will have the most impact on healthcare providers’ business applications and core business processes?

More healthcare providers are incorporating outside data to improve their operations. Sensor data allows organizations to track temperature, humidity, and other factors to ensure product quality throughout the supply chain. Organizations are also exploring using blockchain technology to track the flow of drugs, equipment, and supplies from the manufacturer to the distributor, wholesaler, reseller, and ultimately to the hospital to ensure they’re not being diverted or replaced with counterfeit products. This is incredibly important when you look at the worldwide opioid epidemic caused in part by vulnerabilities in the supply chain process.

Predictive analytics, including machine learning and predictive modeling, is also impacting the industry. For example, when you apply predictive modeling to biosurveillance, the process of gathering, integrating, interpreting, and communicating essential information that might relate to disease activity and threats, you can gain insights into how weather impacts patient volumes.

One healthcare provider we spoke to found that they had an increase in patient intake for respiratory problems when the wind was blowing in a specific direction. Using predictive analytics linked to weather reports, a provider would be able to determine when your hospital or clinic might need to add staff, equipment or supplies to treat an influx of patients with breathing issues.

What should healthcare providers look for when evaluating new technology?

Before providers start looking at what’s in the market, they should clearly articulate their strategy and the problems they’re trying to solve. They should also form a multi-disciplinary team, combining both line-of-business and IT professionals. A major reason that healthcare IT initiatives fail is that people didn’t clearly define what they wanted to accomplish and what success looked like. In addition, they didn’t properly manage the changes that came with new technology and processes.

“Look for a vendor that can be a true partner, which will allow both organizations to grow together to meet new and evolving needs.”
—Lynne Dunbrack, research vice president at IDC Health Insights

Once the organization’s strategy and team is defined, it should determine how the technology addresses its business needs and how it’ll support the organization. On top of going through the formal request for proposal process and identifying good candidates, we recommend asking the vendors to demonstrate how the product will meet your needs and doing reference calls with similar organizations to compare the size and scale of what they were trying to accomplish. Also, it’s critical to evaluate whether the technology is modern and fits into your architectural plan. More and more, healthcare providers are moving to technology built in cloud environments.

The industry is rapidly evolving, and technology is rapidly evolving on top of that. Look for a vendor that can be a true partner, which will allow both organizations to grow together to meet new and evolving needs.

As you mentioned, a lot of solutions are moving to the cloud. How should healthcare providers validate a cloud solution?

Understanding how cloud applications fit within the organization’s security framework and the level of security you can expect from your cloud service provider partner is very important. From a performance standpoint, the business associate agreement or service level agreement will ensure you’re in sync with the vendor on what functionality will be offered and supported. Additionally, you’ll want to understand what professional services are available to help you make the most of the solution and work through change management issues.

Another important thing is to define how the technology will be supported when business continuity and disaster recovery needs to be invoked. One advantage of healthcare organizations moving their technologies to the cloud is that it offers data protection in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.

Cloud-based applications can be hosted in multiple locations. If a data center is in the path of a major hurricane, a co-location could be brought online to ensure there are no service interruptions. During the devastating 2017 hurricane season, hospitals with cloud-based electronic healthcare records were able to access patient records while the storms ravaged their communities. It’s impressive to see how technology can be brought to bear in events like that.

Interested in learning more about how healthcare providers are leveraging technology to improve their operations and enhance care? Visit Workday at HIMSS 2018 booth #12207.