Is a recent prediction of a $78B EMR savings a realistic expectation? Veteran healthcare journalist Anne Zieger digs a little deeper.
Digital health tools are proliferating, and as they do, they're producing a tsunami of patient health data. Right now, pretty much all of that data lives inside of devices ranging from fitness bands to mobile apps to smart watches. The amount of data being produced by consumers in the field is only likely to grow as next-generation smart devices such as smart clothing and embedded sensors come into use.
So how will providers find a way to leverage all of this data to improve patient health? According to a new study by Juniper Research, EMRs will serve as the backbone for this far-flung system, gluing together the disparate pieces. And in the process, EMR systems should save the global health system a cumulative $78 billion over the next five years, Jupiter predicts.
EMRs will serve as the crucial supporting infrastructure for both accountable care organizations and the networked Internet of Healthcare Things which is emerging at a rapid clip. According to Juniper Research's Anthony Cox, the author of the new report, advanced EMRs will connect digital health devices with medical records and the shareholders who use them.
We're not going to see seamless connectivity between digital health devices overnight, of course. For one thing, the report notes, there have been few randomized controlled mHealth trials, undercutting the odds of widespread acceptance by physicians. But on the other hand, to date regulatory authorities haven't come down hard on these new medical devices, allowing the market for mobile tech, wearables and other digital goodies to grow freely.
Where are the savings?
This all sounds very promising, but Juniper's press release leaves some important questions unanswered. Most of all, it begs the question of how this huge $78 billion savings is going to be generated. My best guess is that Jupiter is making some major assumptions that aren't supported by existing evidence.
After all, think about it this way. If wearables and mobile apps—and their descendents—are to rely on an EMR as the backbone, the data will have to be integrated somehow. And no matter how you slice it, integration adds expense to the system, rather than extracting it, at least for a while.
Sure, vendors are stepping forward to help providers consolidate digital health data and push it into their EMRs. Apple's HealthKit, Samsung's SAMI (Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions) and Microsoft Health are all designed to assist in this consolidation process, working as a common environment for all of this wildly diverse data. New Orleans, LA-based Ochsner Health System was an early adopter of this approach, using HealthKit to aggregate consumer data and feed it to Ochsner's Epic Systems EMR.
But even with HealthKit or SAMI in place, providers will have to learn how to use this data to make an impact on consumer health, as it's not the stuff they're used to using. They'll have to get consumers on board, who presumably won't be sharing wearables or mobile app data without signing a release. And then health organizations will have to find a way to improve outcomes or reduce costs enough to justify the financial and human expenses of integrating this new data.
Providers and health organizations will indeed figure out how to do this, if for no other reason than because they have to do it. But as for producing massive savings in just a few years? It doesn't seem likely.
Anne Zieger is a veteran journalist who’s been covering the U.S. healthcare scene for over 25 years. She provides “News with a Twist,” combining solid reporting with expert insights and analysis. Her opinions are her own. You can follow Anne on Twitter @annezieger.