Health IT, Hospitals

Telehealth aside, providers look to invest IT dollars in cloud services, data analytics

Though telehealth will continue to account for a large portion of healthcare IT budgets in 2021, there are other technology-based services driving provider interest. These range from cloud deployment to vaccine scheduling solutions as providers navigate the new landscape created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Provider IT spending is expected to grow from $113 billion last year to $131 billion in 2022, according to data from Gartner. This huge jump will of course include spending on virtual care services — but there is more on providers’ minds.

With the shift to digital showing no signs of slowing down, providers are also looking at cloud services, vaccine scheduling solutions and data analytics to boost their clinical offerings and improve patient experience.

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The cloud, in particular, appears to have piqued provider interest. Over the next five years, there will be a 32-percentage-point increase in healthcare organizations conducting hybrid cloud deployments, according to a report from Nutanix published in December 2020.

Tampa General Hospital in Florida is one of those organizations, as cloud deployment will be front and center for the hospital in the year ahead, said CIO Scott Arnold, in a phone interview.

“I desperately want for us to be out of the data center business and focusing more on scaling for growth,” he said. “And the best way to do that most efficiently is [by] moving our systems into cloud environments.”

Though the hospital began the move prior to the pandemic, they paused their efforts once the crisis hit, as they were unsure of how long it would last and what its effects would be on the hospital’s finances.

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Cloud deployments can be compared to buying a car on a lease, Arnold said. There is a large one-time expense as well as annuity payments. As money and resources were being diverted to Tampa General’s Covid-19 response, the hospital decided to delay its move to the cloud.

“But we’ve got the confidence now to move forward,” Arnold said. “We feel financially vibrant and stable and growing.”

Aside from an interest in the cloud, the pandemic sharpened providers’ focus on data analytics. For example, about 74% of health executives said their organizations would invest more in predictive modeling in 2021, according to a report by PwC’s Health Research Institute released toward the end of last year.

Tampa General will be looking to make major investments around data analytics, Arnold said. Advanced analytics proved to be extremely important during the pandemic. The hospital leveraged its existing analytics hub to measure and assess key pandemic metrics.

This year, the provider will continue to grow its analytics suite of solutions, now focused on growth and operational analytics in addition to Covid-19 data.

As the pandemic moved into the vaccination phase, providers also started leaning on technology to help them facilitate mass immunizations.

Advocate Aurora Health, with dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Illinois, created a completely automated process to help patients in their vaccination journey, said CIO Bobbie Byrne, in an email.

The health system incorporated an application within its LiveWell patient portal to allow vaccine-eligible individuals to schedule their shots. In addition to appointment scheduling, patients can complete their vaccine registration and automatically notify the clinic of their arrival via the LiveWell portal.

“As vaccinations expanded, we created algorithms to prioritize access to the most vulnerable patients, partnering with community organizations to stand up tech-enabled mass sites,” she said.

Investment in these efforts will continue as the rollout is months away from being complete. Only 16.9% of the entire U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though the vaccine rollout is a welcome development, it does not signal a return to business as usual for providers. Care delivery transformed during the pandemic, driven largely by virtual care. But alongside telehealth, remote patient monitoring and home healthcare activities grew.

Though the concept of remote patient monitoring is not new, the pandemic made its adoption more urgent, Tampa General’s Arnold said.

The hospital recently launched a venture fund. At the top of the fund’s list is companies with solutions in the remote patient monitoring arena, he said.

“It may be something new and emerging, or from a different country,” Arnold said. “Or it just maybe something that’s already on the shelf that works well with our suite of products.”

As health IT needs grow, leaders will have to look at the long list of technology options and decide strategically how to spend the dollars at their disposal.

Photo: sdecoret, Getty Images