HIMSS18 wrap-up: The cloud takes center stage for EHRs

Repurposing old technologies was an underlying theme for some 44,000 health IT professionals attending this year’s HIMSS18 conference in Las Vegas.

Former Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt may have summed it up best.

“Run to the cloud,” Schmidt said during his standing-room only keynote address.

While spoken in 2018, attendees could’ve very well heard that same sentence in 2011. But now, EHR vendors are zeroing in on products that emphasize population health data and customizable platform services.

“What may be old in some sectors of the economy can appear new in healthcare, as this sector is woefully behind most other sectors, including migration to cloud and cloud-based services,” John Moore, founder and managing partner at Chilmark Research, told Healthcare Dive.

“The traditional view has been that cloud services did not provide high enough reliability and [there were] HIPAA concerns. Those issues have been largely addressed. Healthcare providers, especially small ones, cannot afford large IT staffs to maintain on-premise systems so cloud is gaining traction and is worthy of discussion in this laggard sector.”

Pop health as growth opportunity

Thanks to the federal Meaningful Use incentive program, most hospitals have adopted EHRs, with Epic and Cerner accounting for a little more than 50% of the market share.

Sage Growth Partners survey published earlier this month found 65% of provider respondents are unlikely to replace their EHR in three years. However, 50% said they were likely to switch their population health management vendor in three years.

Therein lies the growth opportunity for EHR vendors.

Providers are looking to vendors to provide far greater IT-enabled services**,** Moore said. Part of the reason: The vast majority of providers don’t have the bandwidth to maintain existing systems and transition to value-based care models.

“This provides the EHR vendors attractive growth opportunities going forward to provide these add-on services,” he said.

HIMSS18 witnessed a litany of cloud-enabled EHR product news pointing to such a trend. Some highlights:

  • Cerner teamed up with Salesforce to develop cloud-based population health tools;
  • Allscripts launched its cloud-based Avenel EHR product and announced a partnership with Lyft to integrate NEMT ordering into Allscripts’ Sunrise EHR for physicians;
  • Athenahealth prepped an introduction to Epocrates Connect, a provider-facing mobile app to connect to multiple EHR systems for documentation and care coordination;
  • Epic integrated Nuance’s AI-enabled virtual assistant into its EHR product; and
  • Drchrono partnered with Ambra Health to integrate cloud-based imaging tools.

These efforts highlight a proliferation of healthcare data and cloud-based services as providers brace themselves for greater risk in a value-based world.

“External data as a macro theme is unavoidable” in healthcare, Vijay Venkatesan, SVP and chief data officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, told Healthcare Dive. Providers can’t just think about how patients consume healthcare, but will need to understand their environment to help guide care pathways. “We think it’s going to be more important than ever.”

Cloud computing also allows more agile, nimble product services.

The Avenel product, for example, emphasizes machine-learning and integrates clinicians’ treatment patterns and preferences to help speed documentation and decision-making.

Epic is working on voice recognition and natural language processing to assist documentation, President Carl Dvorak told Healthcare Dive.

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