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Eight Health IT Terms Healthcare Executives Must Know


It can be challenging for executives to understand and keep up with rapidly evolving technology terms. Here's help.



It can be challenging for executives who come from non-technical backgrounds to understand and keep up with rapidly evolving technology terms. They may have a surface-level understanding, but unintentionally misuse or overuse certain terms because they don’t have the vocabulary to speak more precisely.

To avoid this, it’s helpful to focus on understanding the fundamental purpose of each new technology and how it can be used to efficiently and effectively grow your business across departments-from market planning and operations to physician recruitment and marketing.

“Technology has transformed the way we do business across industries, and healthcare is no exception,” says Bill Stinneford, senior vice president at Buxton. “Gone are the days when technology was relegated to IT; today, executives across the organization need to be able to speak intelligently about the technology that is being integrated into every aspect of the business.”

The way technology intersects with a healthcare executive's job duties is constantly evolving, says Beth Diamond, global claims team leader, technology, media & business, Beazley. “Without an understanding of what these terms mean, the impact of these concepts is never fully appreciated and cannot be integrated into business processes,” she says. “To get the most from technology initiatives and appropriately address any attendant risks, executives need to be conversant and have a working knowledge of the technology-they cannot simply rely on the information technology or information security groups.”

To that end, here are eight healthcare technology buzzwords to keep on your radar.

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The first problem with the term “big data” is its ambiguity, according to Stinneford. “How big is ‘big’ data anyway?” he asks. “The second problem is that it implies that more data is always better, which is simply not the case.”

The conversation about big data needs to shift to focus on using the right data to answer the question at hand. “Yes, we have the ability to churn through massive datasets, but it’s more important to use relevant data than a lot of data,” Stinneford says. “Big data in and of itself is worthless. When we talk about big data, we need to talk about using the right data and methodologies to discover big answers.”

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Cloud computing stores, processes and distributes data, including healthcare data, across a network of Internet-hosted servers rather than a local-based server or a personal computer. 

“Developing a thorough knowledge and appreciation for both the risks and the benefits available from cloud computing will position hospital technology leaders to adopt and manage 'big data” more effectively and economically,' says Don Martin, vice president and technology practice lead at healthcare consultancy Novia Strategies.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to objects, other than traditional computer devices, that have Internet connectivity and can perform data transmissions or automated activity or interaction, according to Diamond. 

“The IoT encompasses devices used in businesses, healthcare institutions, and homes, and can include medical imaging devices, pacemakers, defibrillators, computerized insulin pumps and bedside monitors,” she says.

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Like other healthcare buzzwords, interoperability is hard for many healthcare executives to understand because it has many meanings, says Adam Sabloff, Virtual Health CEO.

“... Interoperability refers to the ability of disparate systems to ‘talk’ to each other through bi-directional data exchange,” Sabloff says. “Considering that the rise of population health necessitates many different functions working together, it is imperative to first assemble a single view of each patient in order to analyze an entire population. Thus interoperability is paramount.”

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Mobile health (or mHealth) remains a rather young concept, yet it is fast evolving in the industry as a recognized tool to increase healthcare efficiencies, according to Martin. Understanding the vast potential of clinical and consumer applications along with how to best determine the end goal of measuring better health outcomes continues the evolution and popularity of mHealth.

Mobile health is the accessibility and exchange of clinical and consumer health information via wireless networks, to and from personal laptops, tablets, phones and embedded medical devices.

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Patient engagement is another popular buzzword and refers to the empowerment and inclusion of the patient in his care management process.

The key to actual patient engagement will be not expecting the patient to change daily habits on a dime, but seamlessly integrating with the patient’s daily routine, says Sabloff. “The emergence of passive telehealth monitoring and wearables will pave the way. New technology from wall sensors and monitors to sensors embedded in clothing and accessories such as the Apple Watch will provide a constant stream of actionable data that can be integrated into the health record without needing the patient’s active participation."

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The big buzzword for 2015, as made abundantly clear at HIMSS15, is population health, according to Sabloff. “... In its purest form, PopHealth [the term’s new nickname] is holistic care management, coordination and analysis of a cross section of patients across a spectrum of ages, health conditions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and lifestyle behaviors. Hence the confusion-it’s a term with a complex definition.”

He adds: “Having data-driven insights at your fingertips allows you to discover outliers, identify high-risk individuals, locate care gaps, and run algorithms to detect potential emergencies that could lead to expensive hospitalizations and treatments before they occur.

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The “retailization of healthcare” is a commonly used term but has inconsistent meanings, according to Stinneford. “Some definitions tie it to pricing transparency, others focus on anytime anywhere access to physicians through technology, while still others center on the customer service experience,” he explains.

 “Retailization” simply means applying a retail mindset by putting the patient at the center of all healthcare business strategies. When the patient is viewed as a consumer, and the consumer is at the center of your strategy, you can align market planning, marketing, physician recruitment and operations to efficiently and effectively grow your market share,” Stinneford says.

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