8 Health Informatics Trends

Imran Khan, UNE Health Informatics Faculty member

Imran Khan, Health Informatics Faculty member

We met up with Imran Khan,  MBA, MS, PMP, CPHIMS, FHIMSS, a faculty member for the Graduate Programs in Health Informatics, at the 2017 HIMSS conference.  Imran is a recognized leader in the Health Informatics industry, and HIMSS is the largest expo and learning conference for Health Informatics Professionals in the country.

For some background on Imran Khan and his position here at UNE Online, please see his Faculty Spotlight, published right here on the Vision Blog.  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with him about some of the major themes and upcoming trends in the Health Informatics industry right now.

We covered a lot of ground in our discussion, including:

  • Artificial Intelligence and IBM’s Supercomputer, “Watson”
  • MACRA legislation and the use of Electronic Health Records
  • Shifting health policy and the future of the Affordable Care Act
  • Data security and block-chain encryption
  • Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) data formats
  • Interoperability
  • Population Health and Analytics
  • Clinical Decision Support

Here’s a little background on each area that Imran sees as trending in the health informatics space:

Artificial Intelligence/Watson

IBM Watson analytics logoArtificial Intelligence brings to mind different things for different industries. In the Health Informatics realm, Artificial Intelligence would take on a role similar to the Netflix “Because you watched…” or Amazon’s “Recommended for you” intelligent contextual recommendation engines.

Artificial Intelligence analyzes the movies you’ve watched and rated or looks at the type of purchases you’ve made, and with that data, it runs an analysis to come up with some suggestions on what you might like to watch – or buy – next.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not necessarily a new topic, but it’s an extremely important topic in Health Informatics today, and IBM’s “Watson” supercomputer is a major player in this emerging and quickly progressing field. Computer systems are already managing and analyzing many of the complex processes that are involved in every facet of in the field of medicine. Watson is a great example of how computers are working toward taking this data analysis one step further and offering personalized suggestions for next steps in treatment regimens.

Artificial intelligence is poised to usher in a new era of precision medicine. AI for Health Informatics would take into account specific patient information and make recommendations on what the care provider’s next steps could be within a care plan – not for the general population’s averages, but customized per patient.  Of course, the responsibility for each individual’s actual plan of action would lie with the care provider, but Imran believes that AI will be a more widely-used tool in upcoming years.

MACRA and the use of Electronic Health Records

Electronic Health Records and MACRAThe Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) is a piece of federal legislation. Under MACRA, participating providers are paid based on the quality and effectiveness of the care they provide.  The way MACRA is structured, an emphasis is placed on how healthcare providers are using their resources, and what quality outcomes they are delivering.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have been key to this effort. EHRs digitize data, which in turn is then available to be analyzed, which can drive healthcare efficiency. EHRs can also be used to automate some of the processes that have been fairly labor-intensive in the past.  For example, if a doctor’s office has to hire specific staff to call patients with reminders about upcoming appointments, they could use an EHR machine to deliver that call, driving efficiency.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are about to go through another evolution. In this next evolution, EHR vendors will be challenged to deliver software that empowers patients to go beyond just digital access to their health records. There is going to be consumer demand for greater transparency, information, and non-EHR data sources availability in their Personal Health Records.

Shifting health policy and the future of the Affordable Care Act

MACRA and Affordable Care Act legislationThe exact future of healthcare in America is uncertain. Due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as of 2015, 16.4 million previously uninsured people had insurance coverage and access to care. That was an immediate result of the legislation, but other goals of the Affordable Care Act are more long-term. Reform is now focused on preventive care and creating a healthier population over time.

The Affordable Care Act includes new mandates for information management and sharing in order to assure that data is used to drive change. These changes will require a significant investment to implement, so changes will not be fast. Sources within the Health Informatics industry are predicting that it will be two to three years before we see change, but these changes will potentially alter how patient care will be delivered.

Some health informatics industry professionals say that there are more questions than there are answers when it comes to how the ACA will impact Health Informatics policy. Most predict that the core components will stay, such as security and interoperability, but in the end, everyone is hoping that we find a solution that is in the best interest of both the patients and the health care system.

Data security and blockchain encryption

Data security and block chain encryptionData security is an increasing concern across virtually all industries, and it’s always top-of-mind when it comes to healthcare data. HIPAA has stringent rules with severe civil and criminal penalties in place to protect patient privacy, so a data breach in the healthcare industry comes with significant costs.

The security industry has had to keep pace with increasing Internet sophistication, so they have turned to a method of data encryption called blockchain. Blockchain encryption offers a way for people who do not know or trust each other to create an agreed-upon, dependable, and unalterable record of data.

It was originally developed in 2008 as a core component of the digital currency bitcoin, where it was used to solve the potential problem of double-spending. Broadly speaking, as bits of data are generated, blocks of encrypted data are assembled and added to the blockchain in a linear, chronological order. Once an encrypted block is added to the chain, it can never be edited.

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and data formats

Interoperability and data exchangeFast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR – pronounced “fire”) is a standard data format created to facilitate the exchange, integration, and retrieval of electronic health information.

One of the goals of FHIR is to facilitate information exchange (known as interoperability) between new and legacy health care systems, to make it easy to provide health care information to health care providers and individuals on a wide variety of devices from computers to tablets to cell phones, and to allow third-party application developers to provide medical applications which can be easily integrated into existing systems.


Interoperability is the ability of different computer systems and software platforms to “talk to each other” in order to exchange and make use of information.

Interoperability is a common struggle within healthcare, but a worthy one. The goal of interoperability is to streamline patient care across different care settings, which will help healthcare facilities transition to value-based care models, and much more. One challenge after the implementation of Electronic Health Records is enabling the care team to seamlessly exchange information. Other challenges include technology, lack of standards, incentives, and regulations.

Population Health Management and Analytics

Electronic health records and interoperabilityHospitals are increasingly focused on leveraging predictive analytics to streamline their services.  Population Health Management integrates a provider’s electronic health record (EHR) with other health information technology resources. The aggregated patient data is analyzed, and the result is a single actionable patient record that providers can use to improve both patient outcomes and financial outcomes.

Clinical Decision Support

Clinical Decision Support (CDS) is a sophisticated health IT component. It provides clinicians with relevant knowledge and patient-specific information in order to enhance health care by presenting helpful information to clinicians as care is being delivered, so caregivers can quickly make an informed decision and take action. Health information technologies designed to improve clinical decision making are particularly attractive for their ability to address the growing information overload clinicians face and to provide a platform for integrating evidence-based knowledge into care delivery.

As workflows are different across different types of practices, different types of CDS applications may be ideal for these different processes of care in different settings. The majority of CDS applications operate as a component of a larger and more comprehensive Electronic Health Record system.

What do you think?

Upward trends in Health InformaticsThere are many moving parts in the ever-changing landscape of Health Informatics. We briefly outlined the top trends from this year’s HIMSS conference here, but what do YOU think are the upcoming trends in Health IT for the next year?

If you are interested in pursuing a career in Health Informatics, or if you’re simply interested in discussing the program, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (855) 751-4445 or via email at informatics@une.edu.

Or, fill out an online application today at online.une.edu/gateway-portal-page. We look forward to hearing from you!

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