2012 will be a dynamic year for health information technology (health IT) in the U.S., which I outline in my annual health IT forecast in iHealthBeat, the online publication on technology and health care published by the California HealthCare Foundation. The full forecast can be found here.

The key headlines for you Reader’s Digest abridged fans are that:

  • The Health IT sector will continue to grow jobs in the ongoing Great Depression, particularly in key competencies in data security, analytics, integration, and EHR implementation.
  • There will be more data breaches, and consumers will be justifiably concerned about data security. Government will more consistently implement sharper “teeth” in their punishment of health organizations who leak personal health information.
  • Health IT suppliers will consolidate. The Microsoft-GE combination, announced in December 2011, is a sentinel event in this regard.
  • Health IT start-ups will continue to emerge in 2012, some of which will have sound business models that will be acquired by larger firms to round out their offerings and address, in particular, consumer/patient-facing applications that support health engagement to enhance health outcomes.
  • Connected health, in the form of telemedicine, mobile health, and remote health monitoring to the home will gain traction and business models as health payment moves toward accountable care, medical home, and paying for outcomes.
  • IBM’s Watson is an example of high-powered data analytics, which will get more practical and targeted in 2012. A ripe area for this will be preventing re-hospitalizations, a focus of health reform and Medicare financing.
  • People – patients and providers – live multi-channel, multi-platform lives every day. This modus vivendi is translating into health and health care. Patients want online connections with doctors for administration (e.g., Rx refills and appointments), clinical decision making, and communications (e.g., email with practices).

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  There remain Big Questions that today’s tea leaves can’t answer, among them:

  • The Supreme Court’s look into the individual mandate for the Affordable Care Act;
  • The outcome of November 2012’s Presidential and Congressional elections; and,
  • Washington’s ability to address health care as the major component of the long-term budget deficit.

Those questions will significantly impact health care financing in the long run and trickle down on the role of health information technology in the U.S. While the granular answers to these questions can’t be known with certainty, a scenario planner in health care can be sure of a few things: Boomers have begun to enter the retirement phase of life, with attendant growing health care needs and costs. Physicians’ practice costs continue to rise, driving more to throw their businesses into local hospital systems. And, every health stakeholder will be hit harder in their respective pockets — in the form of consumers spending more disposable income on out-of-pocket costs, providers giving up reimbursement, suppliers (such as pharmaceutical companies) feeling tighter margins on price negotiations, and health plans’ challenging medical loss ratios. Transparency in health care costs and negotiations will be a challenge that will be addressed through IT, as well.