When considering how far health IT has come and what lies ahead for the industry, it’s useful to consider the concept of natural evolution.

Contrary to what you might think, for millions of years most species remain relatively stagnant, with some changes here and there. And then, in short bursts called punctuations, maybe 10,000 years long, an incredible explosion of change creates lots of new species, mutations and improvements.

How does this apply to health IT? I would argue that we have already had one punctuation, and we are in the middle of a second one now. When my career started, we wrote billing systems. Systems with structured data, typed in on numeric keypads, by dedicated users of the computer. This was the first generation of success in health IT, and it digitised the administrative parts of healthcare.

Then a number of technology breakthroughs happened – standardising on SQL databases, the storage and viewing of text and images, and perhaps most importantly, the graphical user interface. This allowed non-dedicated users, like physicians, nurses and patients, to use software to help them with their work and lives. This ushered in the next couple of decades where we built and deployed electronic medical records.

Now health IT is in the middle of our next punctuation. If you look at the disruptive technologies of today: cloud, artificial intelligence, wearables, imaging/text analytics, advanced interoperability and ubiquitous UX, we have the raw ingredients for the next massive change. This disruption to healthcare offers the promise of bigger benefits – with improved outcomes and reduced costs – than we have seen with digitisation to date.

This burst of rapid change is already underway. Earlier this year, MediWay Technology, one of the largest healthcare software companies in China, deployed its new iMedical Cloud healthcare IT ecosystem platform. This allows MediWay’s iMedical healthcare information system (HIS) to support all stakeholders in the Chinese healthcare system – including government, healthcare organisations, and consumers – in an environment where medical reform policies are driving increased collaboration, information sharing and use of big data.

Two iMedical Cloud applications, hosted on Tencent Cloud, were launched – transactional cloud collaboration (Cloud HIS) and data cloud collaboration (HealthChain). These can be used within a region for real-time healthcare information exchange, centralised management control and unified allocation of resources. Built and deployed on a unified data platform, iMedical Cloud supports the vastly increased data volumes required with features like sharding. This distributes data across a number of cloud-based servers to provide flexible, inexpensive performance scaling.

In New York, HBI Solutions is using machine learning and predictive analytics to convert vast amounts of data into knowledge that can be applied in real time to decision support. Healthcare providers see not only their patients’ pasts, but also their likely futures. HBI’s Spotlight Data Solution identifies elements, or “features”, in health records that could indicate future problems.

This bridge between past and future is critically important for patient-centered population health management. Healthcare providers in New York can even see the distribution of risk – for chronic diseases, for example – across the 17 million individuals served by Healthix, the region’s largest public health information exchange.

While cloud and AI are already showing great promise, if you examine the list of disruptive technologies, not one has reached its full potential yet. What’s exciting about being in the middle of a punctuation is you don’t know how it will turn out. What is quite clear, based on the enabling technologies of this era, is that we are moving closer and closer to the patient, and closer and closer to being helpful to the clinicians and not just an administrative sidekick.

Health IT has had a long and illustrious history digitising healthcare. But now we are about to create an even better future. I can’t wait to see what we build together.

About the Author

As Vice President, InterSystems HealthShare, Don Woodlock oversees a family of products created to empower the transformation of health and care through comprehensive, shared health information. In his role, Woodlock is responsible for advancing the HealthShare vision to meet the challenges associated with delivering improved quality, accessibility and efficiency across the health and care industries

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