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Health care's top 2012 issues: technology, social media, security

As organizations confront budgetary and government matters, a report outlines what patients consider important.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Dec. 13, 2011

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Investment in health information technology, the privacy and security of patient data, and ramping up social media efforts will be top concerns for health care organizations in 2012, according to a study by PwC's Health Research Institute.

PwC made these predictions after the completion of a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults on their attitudes toward health care issues. Results were combined with an analysis of regulatory, government and economic issues that will affect health care next year.

"2012 will be a seminal year for the health industries as businesses wade through economic, regulatory and political uncertainty," said Kelly Barnes, U.S. health industries practice leader at PwC. "One of the ways the health industry is responding to these uncertainties is by connecting in new ways with each other and their consumers as they rethink existing business models and previous notions about competition, cooperation and collaboration."

Health informatics is viewed by many organizations as a means to improve patient care. PwC predicts that in 2012, health care organizations will invest more in information technology and forge data-sharing partnerships with other organizations, including those with whom they may be in competition.

The PwC survey found that 60% of the population would be comfortable sharing data if they were used to coordinate care, and 54% would agree to sharing it if the data were used to support real-time decision-making for their care. Other data uses patients support include an analysis of their doctor's performance (36%) and identifying at-risk patients (29%).

But patients want their data to be handled securely, according to the report, and would choose one health care organization over another for its ability to secure their information.

In a separate report published in September, PwC found that nearly three-quarters of health care organizations said they are using, or intend to use, patient data for purposes other than treating patients. But only 47% said they have addressed privacy and security risks associated with those uses.

Its recent survey of patients found that 30% would select a hospital with clear privacy and security policies over another if cost, quality and access were equal.

Technology and access to information also would influence the decision of many patients, according to PwC. Twenty-eight percent would select a health care organization that offered online doctor consultations over others that didn't, 17% would make that choice based on facilities that use an electronic medical record, and 5% would pick one that had a social media presence over one that did not.

The report found that social media will play a greater role in health care organizations' strategies to improve health outcomes. The survey found that nearly one-third of survey respondents, including half of those under 35, have used social media channels for health care purposes.

"As more stakeholders enter the data-sharing mix through digitized records, mobile devices, social media and health databases, health care organizations need to build more granular access-control models to prevent overexposure of information," the report's authors wrote.

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