Two of the most important industry conferences of the year drew a slew of impressive healthcare technology leaders, entrepreneurs, executives, investors, and stakeholders to sunny Florida recently — and generated a lot of food for thought.
Consolidation and Capability
Consolidation was abuzz at both conferences. Cerner CEO Dr. David Feiberg spoke about unlocking the clinical promise of electronic health records (EHRs) on stage at ViVE. But hubbub on the floor centered on Cerner’s impending acquisition by tech behemoth Oracle. Allscripts’ exit from EHRs by selling its hospital business segment to Harris also generated a lot of conference chatter. (Not to be left out of the EHR conversation, Epic CEO Judith Faulkner was in attendance and speaking to the press, though without any mergers and acquisitions news and without any entourage.)
Google previewed new natural-language processing (NLP) features for its Care Studio clinical software at ViVE, but waited until HIMSS to announce its deal with Meditech as the first EHR vendor to integrate with Care Studio. Also at HIMSS, Microsoft was on hand to plug its new Azure Health Data Services for unifying clinical, imaging, and medical device data — as well as announce new Cerner EHR integrations for Teams and its recently acquired NLP jewel Nuance. All this on the heels of Baxter acquiring Hillrom and Stryker buying Vocera.
At present, the healthcare technology market has too many vendors and not enough space for each of them. There are going to be many more mergers and acquisitions coming down the pipe, and greater consolidation as the players sort themselves out. Big Tech naturally wants to play in that process. But navigating through these times as a customer is complicated. In such a fluid landscape, healthcare CIOs must question whether to stay with their current vendors or pull the chain and look elsewhere; invest in a promising technology now or wait because it might get bought and bundled more attractively in the near future.
Consider NLP and voice technology, which has been around for a while now and can be extremely useful, particularly in medical documentation applications. Nuance has successfully targeted this tech for healthcare use, but it’s been pretty expensive for average doctors and price-prohibitive to deploy across the organization. Will it now become super mainstream because Microsoft can support a more-accessible pricing model or embed its technology in larger service packages? Applied to purchasing decisions, should healthcare organizations scrutinize not only their current partner relationships, but also where those partners are going? It presents an interesting problem that sways business goals and strategy. Relationships should be defined by where the business is going — not where the technology is going. But technology is increasingly driving the health of the healthcare business.
Winds of Change
Everyone at both conferences was aware that things are just different now. The central fact is that the pandemic pushed technology to the forefront of the healthcare delivery model. Driven by a clear and immediate need, healthcare organizations made a practically instant switch to enormously tech-forward and tech-dependent function (telemedicine, remote work, cloud-power, etc.). The business need was very clear and organizations made it happen quickly en masse.
But where to go from here? How do you arrive at clear business needs in this new world where everything is up for reexamination?
We can’t ignore what we just experienced and its impact. Change is in the air.
- Patients no longer relate to their providers only in terms of physical presence or place, as they are now accustomed to healthcare experiences that are device-driven, digitally enabled, or virtualized.
- Staff who embraced new technology for the past few years and were seen as heroes for keeping their organizations afloat will not revert to pre-pandemic systems or exclusion from decision-making or excuses for why operations can’t continue to evolve.
- Reimbursement models are also being dissected as obstacles to progress.
- Healthcare cybersecurity remains a pressing concern.
- And burnout pervades the sector, from physicians and front-line workers to administrative and executive staff. Judging by conversations I had at ViVE, the average tenure as a CIO right now maxes out at 24 months. I met one who had served just 10 months before moving on to the next company. And many are leaving the healthcare sector altogether.
Customs are being questioned. Roles are being redefined. Risk and opportunity are muddled. Technology is central in all of it.
There’s plenty of innovation. There’s a lot of money flowing into healthcare technology investment. And there’s broad agreement on the need for greater interoperability and better data utilization. But there’s not a lot of certainty about what is going to emerge from the milieu.
Market consolidation captured a lot of attention at ViVE and HIMSS, but it was also evident that even greater shifts are unfolding in the healthcare technology landscape. The delivery of healthcare has fundamentally been extended beyond the walls of the exam room and into cyberspace. And it is still in flux.
Everyone in healthcare wants technology systems that will be sustainable, support the business, and be clinically relevant for the next leap ahead. But at the moment, the roadmap for getting there remains uncharted.
— Charles Aunger is Managing Director at Health2047.