If you believe experts, the potential for IT to transform health care has existed for a decade or more.

After languishing for all those years, new research suggests that the adoption of IT systems to streamline and expand health care processes is about to trend upward.

The basic forecast, in the new Research and Markets’ North American Healthcare IT Market Report 2013-2017, is that North America’s health care IT market will grow at a 7.4 percent pace between now and 2017, reaching a dollar value of $31.3 billion. Currently it’s valued at $21.9 billion.

The Canadian market is forecast to grow at a slightly higher rate (7.7 percent) than the U.S. market (7.2 percent). However, the United States represents the lion’s share of the market, growing from $15.9 billion to $22.6 billion by 2017.

The benefits to be derived from implementation of a more robust health care IT system include its ability to:

  • Transform the paper-based health care system into a digitized one
  • Give clinicians real-time access to patient data
  • Provide clinicians with support to make the best possible decisions.
  • Streamline processes and reduces administrative overhead.

The forecast offers two more lists: one of factors that will drive the growth, another of factors that have, in the past, held it back and may continue to do so.

The drivers, says Research and Markets, include:

  • The rise in pressure to cut healthcare costs
  • A growing demand to integrate health care systems
  • The high rate of return on investment
  • Financial support from the U.S. government
  • Other government initiatives (e-health, health connect, pay-for-performance (P4P) program, e-Health Ontario and Alberta Netcare),
  • The rise in aging population
  • The growing demand for CPOE adoption in order to reduce medication errors
  • The rise in incidences of chronic disorders

Research and Markets cited the following as major constraints to the growth of the healthcare IT system:

  • The high cost of healthcare IT solutions
  • High maintenance and service costs
  • Interoperability issues
  • The shortage of healthcare IT professionals
  • Poor standard health care protocols such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Unprecedented growing incidences of data breaches of patient information.

Despite these obstacles to adoption, the Research and Markets forecast is yet one more sign that the healthcare world is moving, albeit reluctantly, toward a more complete integration of technology and medical services. And from a pragmatic standpoint, that’s good news for IT professionals.