In January, I read a number of articles and blog posts about predictions for the New Year and assembled a consensus list of the top 10 predictions for 2016. With 90 percent of the year behind us, here’s a review of how each of the predictions performed and its associated grade.
1. The role of IT (and also the role of CIO) will shift starting in 2016. Maintaining and improving core infrastructure and legacy systems will remain important, but IT will also need to step up its development efforts using customer-focused, agile techniques to meet the requirements of the rapidly evolving business environment.
Any IT department will have an operational role as well as an implementation role, but it’s not clear that departments or CIOs handled this dual responsibility differently in 2016 compared to past years.
Prediction accuracy: C-
2. Major changes in provider and payer organizations -- including mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and partnerships -- will favor organizations that are poised to capitalize on new models of reimbursement. Government may block or regulate some of these activities to ensure a competitive environment.
Changes to the playing field, such as the Affordable Care Act, Meaningful Use, and value based reimbursement plans (such as ACOs), began to have an effect on payers and providers. Smaller players are finding that they need to align with larger organizations that have better technical capabilities, and large players are looking for opportunities to partner to increase efficiency. Government has indeed blocked some mergers, most notably the mega-mergers in the payer industry: Aetna/Humana and Anthem/Cigna.
Prediction accuracy: A
3. Where market forces and self-policing by industry fail to keep costs and quality in line, government will step in to enact reforms. Drug costs, lab developed tests, mobile apps and medical necessity are among the candidates for regulation.
Drug companies executed some high-profile price increases in 2016. For example, EpiPen’s price increased more than 400 percent since 2009, which triggered pointed questions from Congress. Apart from trying to publicly embarrass Pharma executives, there has been little or no successful legislative action aimed at controlling prices.
Similarly, the FDA announced it will delay finalization of guidance that will change the way lab-developed tests are regulated, which may kill the initiative entirely.
Prediction accuracy: D
4. Security threats will continue to be a top priority for IT departments. New techniques and best practices will become more widespread to help reduce some threats.
Cybersecurity remained at the forefront of everyone’s attention in 2016. Health record breaches continued to the point where supply of hacked records is outstripping demand and device manufacturers like St. Jude and J&J felt the sting of security flaws. In response, private consortia as well as ONC-led efforts are being developed to help advise the industry on how to best avoid and combat cybersecurity problems.
Prediction accuracy: A- (We have to deduct some points for missing one of the biggest security stories of 2016: Blockchain.)
Blockchain is one dimension of cybersecurity that was not predicted prior to 2016. In fact, only one sentence in one article mentioned it as a possible weapon against cyberattacks. By August, ONC had sponsored an ideation challenge, and several new projects and startup companies emerged in the healthcare sector. 2016 was definitely a breakout year for blockchain in healthcare.
5. Interoperability is perennially on the list of areas needing improvement. In 2016 vendors and IT departments must make significant advances or face government intervention. Meaningful Use Stages 1 and 2 helped migrate a majority of medical records from paper to electronic format and established an interoperability baseline. To build on this momentum, data needs to flow freely among systems.
The main focus for interoperability in 2016 was on deliberate information blocking. The consensus seems to be that technology and standards are adequate, and interoperability can be achieved where there is the will. We’re still a long way from semantic interoperability, though.
Predication accuracy: B+
6. Simple patient care activities that have historically taken place in the primary care provider's office will occur in other settings, notably retail locations (such as pharmacies) and remotely via telemedicine.
Telemedicine is growing in popularity; however, it remains hampered by inconsistent regulations and uneven reimbursement practices. While primary care outside of the provider’s office will lower costs and increase convenience for patients, 2016 was not its breakthrough year. Perhaps 2017 will be.
Prediction accuracy: B-
7. Mobile apps, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) will enhance and automate remote management of patients with chronic conditions. The same technologies will also help healthy patients maintain good health and watch for early warning signs of medical problems that they can electronically transmit to their care providers (patient generated data). Exactly how clinicians will use consumer device data and whether the government will regulate it are still open questions.
Like telehealth, mobile/wearable tech is in a growth mode. While there hasn’t been a huge success story, there have been plenty of announcements of innovative pilot programs, such as the Sutter Health/Validic project.
Prediction accuracy: C
8. Population Health will move from a buzzword to actual practice. Precision Medicine -- which takes into account each patient's unique social and genomic determinants of health -- will emerge as the new cutting edge for healthcare providers to proactively render care.
Precision Medicine received a boost from the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative and the Vice President’s Cancer Moonshot. These programs led to a series of grants and partnerships between vendors and research institutions. Precision Medicine is just making its way into everyday practice, and oncology is the thin edge of the wedge.
Prediction accuracy: B+
9. Employers and other purchasers of healthcare insurance will begin to scrutinize costs, demanding more predictability and transparency.
Health insurance premium increases continue to outpace inflation, with an expected 5 percent rise in 2017. Employers have few tools to control price increases, and it doesn’t look like predictability or transparency will be at their disposal anytime soon.
Predication accuracy: D
10. The healthcare system will require a different set of tools as its focus shifts from treating patients with disease to maintaining healthy populations. Analytics, care coordination systems and secure communication tools will gain prominence, and the primacy of the EHR/EMR will decline.
The EHR has evolved perfectly to suit the fee-for-service environment in which it was created. It captures episodic data, generates billing information, and serves as the institution’s legal medical record. However, in an ACO or other risk-sharing environment, the EHR is unable to thrive. While it still has a role as a legal medical record, it cannot perform the required analytics and care coordination tasks.
The shared risk environment has not yet evolved a product category to perfectly solve its unique problems; however, we’re definitely seeing a shift away from the EHR as the sole workspace for providers. Tools with more population-level features and access to data beyond the institution’s EHR are becoming dominant.
Prediction accuracy: A
Based on this year’s experience, it seems that using a consensus of prediction articles and blog posts provides a reasonable – but imperfect – method of foreseeing how a year will shape up. The basic, high-level trends were easy enough to spot, but some other predictions failed to materialize. And unfortunately, the consensus technique did not envision some of the biggest stories of the year, like blockchain and the ACA’s struggles.
Overall accuracy: B-