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By: David Jarmoluk, Chief Technology Officer

We’re over halfway through 2018, so like any self-proclaimed health IT geek, I wanted to take a look back at the trends forecasted at the end of last year to see just how accurate they were, and truly understand how far we have come this year in the healthcare industry to adopting and implementing technologies that have been theorized to keep us healthier, happier, more efficient and even more cost-effective.

The following trends were identified by a myriad of publications and organizations including HIT Consultant, HIMSS and even Cerner as the top Health IT trends of 2018.

1) AI 

Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword for quite some time in most industries. Specifically, for healthcare, AI has brought the promise of supporting population health management by utilizing the data of many to improve everything from radiology to preventative medicine, all the way to utilizing its capabilities to improve EHR user interfaces.

Where are we now? While the aforementioned big promises haven’t quite yet come to fruition, we are experiencing positive momentum in the right direction. In fact, according to MedCity News, it’s the small wins that are going to ultimately make the biggest difference. And so far this year, we’ve seen small strides made in the areas of hospital operations, clinical pathways, patient risk management, radiology and more.

One small movement for StayWell, in particular, was the product research conducted around voice-first capabilities utilizing conversational AI agents. Voice-first interactions are on the rise. According to data from NPR and Edison Research, one in six Americans now owns a voice-activated speaker, up 128 percent from January 2017. In the future, StayWell plans to introduce products to the market utilizing AI in combination with voice-enabled tech in order to assess patient wellness and to provide individualized educational materials, reminders and support, all with the goal of reducing risks, improving outcomes and lowering the cost of care. 

2) VR

Virtual reality isn’t new to the health IT scene, but has certainly picked up significant momentum, especially as it relates to one of the top health concerns today - stress. Currently, 49% of individuals are at risk for stress-related illnesses, and it takes a toll on more than just the individual. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, the cost of work-related stress in the US is $300 billion annually. Further, behavioral-related disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims.

VR technology has been shown to bring down stress levels by combining this technology with mindfulness meditation. In doing so, employees are “transported” to relaxing environments, bringing a whole new dimension to the meditation experience. In addition to stress reduction, increased productivity, heightened attention span and improved sleep, a growing body of scientific evidence also underscores the benefits of mediation for individuals undergoing treatments such as dialysis or chemotherapy. Not only can meditation sooth stress and anxiety associated with these forms of treatments, it’s also clinically proven to help improve cognitive dysfunction often experienced by cancer patients.

Where are we now? In the past year, multiple studies were released proving that VR can help to reduce chronic stress, relax hospital patients and even improve vision. Specifically, StayWell’s VR technology has resulted in 32% fewer employees reporting work-related stress, 41% fewer employees reporting poor sleep quality and 95% reporting feeling healthier after the program. All in all, it’s safe to say that VR has succeeded in helping people become happier and healthier in 2018.

 3) IOT AND BIG DATA

Using IoT-enabled devices to track things like heartrate, hours of sleep, breathing and beyond has given us a plethora of data from the general population to make near-certain predictions about patient risks and outcomes. Through the use of said devices, we also have the opportunity to deliver true virtual care for chronic condition management, virtual visits and additional care coordination activities that positively impact patient care. Overall, it seems big data collected by IoT enabled devices is the secret sauce to population health management’s continued success.

Where are we now? As an industry, we are not quite as ahead of the curve as we should be with these capabilities. While the IoT devices are there and the big data exists, we should better harness their power to drive better efficiencies. One of the challenges to this is the capability to both mine and analyze the data. However, with new technologies like StayWell’s Krames on FHIR significantly reduces the time this daunting task takes.

I have faith that as we become more comfortable and familiar with the data we receive from these devices, and we create the tools we need to help us analyze it we will be able to make patient information more accessible to clinicians, payers and providers to positively impact outcomes.

At StayWell, staying on top of health IT trends will always support our vision to provide individuals with the education and digital health programs they need to manage lifestyle risks on their own; to facilitate data-driven discussions between individuals and their healthcare providers about lifestyle risks; and to arm providers with tools that support their patients’ management of lifestyle risks.

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