The global pandemic impacted many lives and taught us valuable lessons. Life will never be the same. New healthcare technology trends rose in prominence. The mainstreaming of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines that teach our cells how to make a protein to trigger an immune response is pretty amazing! Infections, hospitalizations, and mortality rate metrics were shared quickly for timely, global intelligence to help better implement healthcare policy directives. Innovative healthcare technology changed how our well-being is managed and medicines are disbursed. Healthcare providers must now ensure their future technology investment roadmap aligns with the new industry direction.
Healthcare Technology Trends
Several key factors came together during the global pandemic that amplified the impact and scope of how healthcare services are performed. This combined impact is expected to drive profound change in the future of healthcare. The following five trends are expected to have the most significant long-term influence.
1. Telehealth Consultation
The mainstreaming of telehealth came from a need for social distancing. Before the pandemic, telehealth options existed but were seldom practiced. If given the choice between an in-person visit or a call, most opted for an in-person visit. The pandemic changed this decision model. A more viable process to manage scarce staffing resources emerged. Patients who were unable to travel due to a lack of transportation or who had childcare responsibilities could now obtain medical advice with greater convenience.
As stated in this McKinsey report, “Strong continued uptake, favorable consumer perception, and tangible investment into this space are all contributing to the continued growth of telehealth in 2021. New analysis indicates telehealth use has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.”
One of the survey results that was shared in the report validated the impact of this change:
“76% of patients are now interested in using telehealth”
Several technology investments are required to complete this vision. Secure communication platforms must exist. Remote access must be supported. Internal communication, file sharing, and training programs are just the start. HIPAA compliance must be adhered to. And billing systems must be modified to capture the time and resources involved in providing these medical consultations as part of a well-being program.
2. Greater Reliance on AI
According to Forbes, one of the most impactful areas where AI is driving innovation in healthcare is reducing misdiagnoses of illnesses. In 2015, misdiagnosing illness and medical errors accounted for 10% of all US deaths. AI has been proven to predict and diagnose diseases at a faster rate than most medical professionals. In one study, an AI model using algorithms and deep learning diagnosed breast cancer at a higher rate than 11 pathologists.
Another area where AI is having a significant impact is the shortage of labor. This trend has impacted not only care providers but also the administrative and back-office staff. Many of these employees left their profession during COVID-19 due to stress or underpayment. AI has come to the rescue by providing automated virtual assistants that can answer basic questions or provide guidance on what next steps should be followed. Amazon’s Alexa can even provide healthcare information and advice for parents with ill children!
3. Better Accuracy, Access to Medication
Healthcare technology trends are also impacting the process of administering medication prescriptions. Medication requires authorization from a doctor as well as access to the patient’s medical data. As a paper-based, manual process, inefficiency exists coupled with the possibility of error. COVID-19 accelerated the digital transformation of how this process operates. Digital systems can perform this process much faster and with greater accuracy. Continued cost pressure on healthcare organizations will provide new ways to digitize processes while ensuring patient data remains safe and secure.
4. Wearable Technologies
Physical devices worn by patients are getting smarter and more widespread, just as intelligent process automation let business processes get smarter. Wearables, such as the Apple Watch, can track how long you wash your hands or provide an alert notification for a change in heart condition. A data explosion is now occurring of information that is being collected and shared. Clothing can even perform health tracking to provide early notification of potentially unhealthy conditions.
An increase in data has brought new challenges. Greater awareness is driving more activity and inquiries with healthcare providers. This shift has triggered a greater need for IT systems to support greater volume and to provide more self-help or diagnostic services to avoid further burdening the staff, given the current labor resource constraints. With more data collected, shared, and acted upon, processes must be increasingly automated to keep up with a higher level of activity.
5. Remote Patient Monitoring
It should come as no surprise as telehealth services continue to expand, the need for remote patient monitoring has also grown. Many healthcare technology trends have emerged to leverage Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices. A wealth of patient health metrics is now available – in real-time as needed – to healthcare professionals, including:
- Blood Pressure Cuffs – calculate a patient’s heart rate and blood flow by measuring changes in artery motion
- Glucometers – test a patient’s blood sugar through a small drop of blood placed on a test strip that is connected to the device
- Pulse Oximeters – measure light wavelengths to determine blood oxygen levels with non-invasive clips attached to a patient’s finger
A macro trend should now be quite clear. An increasing level of data is being collected outside the physical boundaries of Doctor’s offices, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. This increased activity has triggered the need for more robust IT systems, access control protocols, and security measures to ensure patient healthcare data is secure. Multiple IT systems must now be integrated and managed to ensure the process works as planned to provide patients with a positive user experience. This includes not only diagnostic and file-sharing applications but also the billing systems to track activity and resource utilization for proper invoicing.
We have seen much “necessity” emerge as the pandemic developed. Shelter-in-place orders were issued, and a heightened focus was placed on how to stop the spread of the coronavirus. A leapfrog advance in digital medicine and systems emerged as new healthcare technology trends are driving innovation for better health in our society. In this regard, we had a positive outcome from all the disruption, challenges, and losses that occurred over the past few years.