David Lareau is CEO of Medicomp Systems of Chantilly, VA.

Dave Lareau

If you are a HIMSS conference regular, you are well aware that there is no shortage of hype around new innovations that are destined to disrupt and transform healthcare. Over the years, we’ve heard plenty of buzz about ground-breaking technologies for analytics and population health management, and how the cloud and Google Glass will be the next big thing for the industry.

Obviously not all the hyped solutions are as transformative as their developers hope, which is why we were curious to find out what this year’s HIMSS attendees thought about the current batch of innovations. In our booth at the March HIMSS18 conference, we asked over 500 health IT professionals what health IT innovation they thought has gotten the most hype but has the least promise to make a real, positive impact in healthcare.

Survey participants selected from the following options:

  • Precision medicine
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Telemedicine
  • Blockchain
  • Wearables
  • They are all promising

The survey results have been interesting to consider. Seventy-five percent of the voters were evenly split between artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and “they are all promising.” In you were at HIMSS, the AI and blockchain selections probably aren’t too surprising because every aisle in the exhibit hall had at least one vendor promoting a solution that leverages one or both of the technologies. We thus agree with our survey participants: there’s no shortage of hype around AI and blockchain.

We then removed the “all promising” choice and tried to glean additional insights into our voters’ profiles and figure out what exactly they’re trying to tell us and why they question the positive impact of these technologies in healthcare. While we don’t know the answers for sure, we have some theories.

Blockchain: not so fast

Blockchain is one of the newest innovations trying to make an impact on healthcare. While blockchain holds some potential, its current use cases are limited. Despite the hype, we’re likely years – if not decades – away from its universal use in healthcare.

Blockchain technology does hold some promise for supporting secure data exchange. Blockchain records cannot be changed and can be easily shared across networks. It thus could improve security and interoperability at the same time. Because blockchain transactions are logged in chronological order, the technology could also be useful to determine the origin and ownership of a patient’s full record as it is transmitted from one provider to another.

However, blockchain would require a massive amount of computing power to process a single healthcare record. Because if this limitation, the mainstream use of blockchain in healthcare will have to wait until the next generation of computer technology becomes available.

Artificial intelligence: not without quality data

If you listen to what Google and IBM have to say, you might be convinced that AI technologies are on track to transform healthcare. That is, unless you happen to be a healthcare CIO.

AI was the top over-hyped technology selected by voters with a CIO title. Why? Likely because CIOs best understand that AI must be fed quality, usable data to perform its algorithmic magic – and CIOs understand the challenge of getting quality, usable data out of most systems. Without quality data to draw conclusions, AI is simply not going to work.

Contrary to what marketers might be trying to make us believe, we are still in the very early days of AI and machine-learning for healthcare. Sure, it would be great if we had solutions that could auto-magically sift through all the unstructured and uncorrelated pieces of data in an EMR and generate clean, detailed data to drive AI conclusions. The reality, however, is that before AI can go mainstream and transform healthcare, we first must take the vast amount of unstructured clinical data produced by the majority of EMR systems and transform that data into codified, structured formats.

Most EMRs were originally designed to support billing, and not to maintain precise data points on everything from patient presentation to social determinants of health data. Most information in a patient’s record is in a free-text format and not mapped to data standards. AI queries are nearly impossible to launch when all you have to work with is a bunch of uncorrelated data. If you can’t launch a query, you certainly can’t draw quality conclusions.

The CIOs participating in our survey understand that AI’s exciting potential won’t be realized until we clean up and organize the vast amounts of clinical data that EMRs have helped create over the last couple of decades. We must leverage technologies like Quippe Clinical to logically link disparate clinical data and concepts and map them to standard nomenclature, such as ICD-10, SNOMED, RxNorm, and LOINC. Once duplicates are filtered and the data is organized into a structured format, AI technologies will have the solid starting point required to make a positive impact on healthcare.

Health IT hype: there’s never a shortage

The optimists believe that all these new technologies are promising. I say it’s probably too soon to tell which, if any, will ultimately transform healthcare. Regardless of what the future holds, I’m confident that health IT will never suffer from a shortage of hype.