Spurred over a decade ago now, the HITECH Act literally fueled the industry with billions of dollars with the goal to bring digital health records to everyone. Innovation brought us the EHR and beyond. And it doesn’t look like anything will slow down if these industry experts are to believe.
In 2021, hospitals will be looking for healthcare IT solutions that can protect and connect frontline care teams, improve communication with patients and families, and facilitate operational efficiencies.
We will see wider adoption of voice-controlled and hands-free communication tools that can be worn under personal protective equipment (PPE), enabling efficient care team collaboration while protecting staff and conserving valuable resources. Nurses and doctors don’t want to leave a patient in isolation and doff PPE to get supplies or communicate with colleagues. Instead, they can stay by the bedside and use simple voice commands to connect with the right person or group to get the information and tools they need. Standards for PPE will modernize as healthcare workers rely on hands-free communication devices to do their jobs more effectively and safely.
While healthcare leaders strive to protect employees from COVID-19, they cannot forget about other risks that threaten the safety of care teams like workplace violence. Wearable panic buttons, intelligent hands-free communication, and other technology solutions that protect the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of frontline workers will be critical.
Healthcare organizations will also embrace solutions that improve communication and engagement with patients and their loved ones – whether they are in the waiting room, at work, or in another country. Mobile applications that enable care team members to send personalized and secure texts, photos, and video updates in real-time to patients’ friends and families will go a long way to creating human connections and market differentiation.
Enhancing loyalty and engagement will also be critical for healthcare organizations in the wake of COVID-19. With the cancellation of many elective surgeries in 2020, hospitals will need to implement technology solutions that simplify workflows, speed triage processes, increase capacity and accelerate growth.
Analytics as a Core Competence – In stark contrast to previous years, advanced analytics in healthcare is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for health systems and payors. There is growing realization that it is now a critical core competence. Without this, it is no longer possible to significantly improve outcomes, reduce cost or increase revenue.
Increasing Significance of Social Determinants of Health – The coming year will continue to experience an increasing focus on and a rapid growth in the use of Social Determinants of Health data used in combination with clinical and claims data, to more effectively improve health outcomes and reduce cost of care.
Turning Data into Actionable Insights – The increased focus and progress on data transparency and interoperability is also helping to unlock the potential value of data across the healthcare ecosystem. With this avalanche of data comes an unparalleled opportunity to create valuable insights from the data
COVID-19 management and learnings will dominate healthcare in 2021 as they did in 2020. Expect to see tremendous growth in use of data in sustaining and improving the health of individuals and communities. Large scale standardization, collection and collaboration of data and application of data science will improve and enhance new models of clinical trials, earlier risk detection, more accurate diagnosis, faster drug development and better treatments. Cloud platforms and partnerships will underpin access to care everywhere and there will be no distinction between in-person and virtual visits, instead, there will be access to appropriate care, delivered by the right provider at the right time in the right care setting. There will be an increase in the number of patients that will access their healthcare through a hospital or health system digital front door, supporting a single point of entry to provider services.
Urgent care will play a major role in immunizing the population and testing patients for COVID-19 in 2021. This demand will require clinics to operate with a high degree of efficiency, and patient data will play a pivotal role. Two of the leading vaccines require multiple doses, so accurate patient data is critical to helping clinics track vaccine histories and follow up on final doses. It will also help them prioritize vaccine distribution more effectively, making sure that first-tier patients receive their vaccines with priority. For urgent care providers, technology will remain key to accurate, up-to-date, and actionable data. In the next year, we’re going to see an increased focus on the value of flexible, connected electronic medical records (EMR) solutions that give them easier access to comprehensive patient data.
Healthcare IT departments of the future will need to focus on three initiatives to help their facilities thrive: transformative technology, a patient-centered approach to care, and service delivery excellence. In the near-future, technology can play an important role in combating physician burn-out. Technology will increasingly provide clinical guidance to overburdened providers and staff. Clinical and financial validation of patient orders will help reduce clinician stress. Transformative technologies will focus on facilities’ digital front door strategy and leveraging technology to engage patients at every touchpoint of the patient journey. Increased process transparency and digital engagement will have a profound positive impact on both physician and patient experience.
I anticipate that we’ll see faster uptake of precision medicine within the clinical workflow. Many “early adopters” are seeing measurable results. These include: 1) implementing heritable disease risk functionality for early detection and intervention; 2) pharmacogenomic testing to ensure safer, more effective prescribing; and 3) germline testing to help arrive at the most precise diagnosis possible – thereby being able to choose the optimal treatment more quickly. Consumers (aka patients) likewise have great interest in genetics and genomics, and are accelerating clinical adoption. I expect all this will motivate more provider organizations to adopt precision medicine, as well as accelerate payer decisions about payment and quality incentives.
As if the enormous and not-optional task of vaccinating the population of the entire world against COVID-19 in 2021 won’t be difficult enough due to logistics, consider our woefully non-interoperable medical record backbone. The significance of keeping track of those who have been vaccinated and those who have not is critical. There is no doubt that collaboration among the right healthcare information technology (HIT) solutions could enable efficiency and accuracy that has the potential to save many lives, rather than creating chaos and, sadly, resulting in lives lost in its absence. Though there will surely be bumps in the road to making COVID just a memory, I believe we can expect 2021 to see HIT demonstrate perhaps it’s highest use yet in this effort.
The healthcare technology “winners” in 2021 will focus on reducing operating cost and increasing scalability for providers looking to gain efficiency in a post-COVID environment. Many technology components of the healthcare ecosystem are still under-developed. This is especially true for artificial intelligence and natural language processing technologies. 2021priorities and investments are likely not going to be “transformational” but more “incremental” in nature, with a heavy focus on increased utilization of technology deployed through existing electronic health record platforms. Companies with full solutions, not just a series of technology system integrations, will set the bar.
This past year, data scientists worked to identify actionable insights from health data (such as medical claims, electronic health records, and social determinants) to improve detection of COVID-19 and monitor infection spread. We must build on this work in 2021, and to do so, the healthcare industry will need to leverage advanced data analytics to continue strengthening our clinical response to the virus and our approach to managing risk. As the U.S. prepares to roll out multiple COVID-19 vaccines, the distribution process must be data-driven to identify which populations are most vulnerable and should receive the vaccine first along with keeping track to ensure they get the second dose. As the vaccine is distributed, expect to see an increase in data sharing between the public and private sectors as all stakeholders work together to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
Medical technology has focused on moving toward less invasive procedures and diagnostics for decades. With a pandemic wreaking havoc on our medical systems around the globe, I see this only accelerating. I suspect a silver lining to this global challenge will be the push toward a new level of non-invasive technologies that go so far as removing all direct contact with the patient. Imagine if you could gaze at some basic stimuli on a screen, and it would tell you or your doctor if you have warning signs for dementia, ALS, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so much more. This technology is closer than you might think.