The New Healthcare Landscape

The healthcare arena is being transformed by key innovations in the form of big data analytics and storage, mobility, cloud computing and virtualization.  In addition, IT is pushing care from being reactive to proactive, with advances in patient data sharing creating a complete paradigm shift in healthcare.

These are some of the insights from a recent TechSource Q&A interview with Tom Balaban, Region Director for Federal Civilian Agencies, NetApp U.S. Public Sector, who discusses key challenges that the healthcare sector faces today.  

What do you believe are the key challenges government must overcome to get where we want to be with using technology to improve health services?  

Balaban:  There are a couple of things going on with regards to challenges.  From the perspective of the average American, we are used to always being on and having access to information at all times.  Technology has played a key role in this and it is changing very fast.  As a result, we are seeing a federal acquisition process that cannot keep up with the pace of innovation.  For example, during a three-year procurement cycle, the technology is obsolete once it is implemented. 

From a healthcare perspective, we need to rethink our approach to how we pay for care.  The current system is very reactive where there are no incentives for being healthy or not getting sick.  We need to change this model, and IT is already helping with this, but more needs to be done.  From using mobile solutions to capture data and sharing with larger telehealth systems with the information going immediately to the doctors and beyond, there are many ways to use technology to make care more proactive.

What are some of the lessons learned to date with Health IT initiatives that may help government and industry players work through these issues?

Balaban:  Change is very hard for everyone. It is very difficult to create new processes and have people adopt them fully in ways that provide enhanced outcomes.  If you deliver on a promise, but the requirements don't deliver, then it is all too easy to fail.
Essentially, technology without process improvement is worthless.   We have seen programs where this is still the number one challenge today.  Headlines call out where a vendor or Integrator is faulted  for the program not performing or not keeping up with demand.  While these are often fixed by throwing more hardware at the problem,  we have seen some solid examples of how enhanced processes and defined measureable requirements can create both time and cost efficiencies. 

The last item is the perception that increased spending on technology will ultimately drive down overall costs.  In the commercial world, ROI is always part of the discussion through project development and implementation.  As an example, true cost savings in the health IT arena can come from time saved from logging and sharing in patient data in a more efficient way.

New technologies and increasing regulations are creating massive amounts of healthcare data.  How can data storage help solve these challenges? 

Balaban:  Data storage will certainly help with this challenge, but there are lots of hurdles to overcome.  In fact, there are positive and negative impacts that come from the massive amounts of data now available.  For example, inputting data for doctors can become cumbersome, which may override enhancing the patient experience or negatively impact overall job satisfaction.

From a data storage perspective, we are helping the healthcare sector undergo a transformation from moving away from being reactive to taking a more proactive stance.  And, there has also been a tremendous amount of progress to help enable patients to access sound and valid data – whether it is Blue Button efforts or WebMd. 

In addition, industry is playing a major role in helping patients have a virtual experience with doctors, as well as finding ways for analyzing data to look at larger trends for helping with clinical decision-making.

Can you cite some examples of areas where progress is being made using Information Technology to improve health care?
Balaban:  As I mentioned, WebMD and the VA’s Blue Button efforts are prime examples of using valid data for helping patients and care providers. 

Furthermore, we are seeing tremendous strides with virtualization, which is helping increase efficiencies while also reducing overall costs.  There have also been major strides by companies like Siemens who are helping digitize all health information, which can be shared with different providers through a simple URL.  

What are your Health IT priorities for the upcoming year?
Balaban: For NetApp, we are constantly staying in front of what customers want to do next. As such, we are looking to the cloud and virtualization, as well as taking private HIPPA information and leveraging it in a secure cloud environment.   This will help facilitate the seamless and secure sharing of patient information to ultimately transform the speed and quality of care.

Visit NetApp to learn more about its healthcare solutions.