As tradition, we have rounded up the industry leaders that have thoughts and predictions for what we might see in the new year. I am sure no one will be sad to say goodbye to 2020 but it is one we will never forget. And I am sure no one is surprised to see telehealth on prediction lists. But as we saw a big boom of telehealth use during the pandemic, how will the sector evolve and innovate for a post COVID world?
There has been a tremendous need to change the antiquated medical education system for several decades, and the pandemic shined a bright light on these preexisting deficiencies. Many are embracing the idea of remote and virtual training now that healthcare providers and medical students have lost the opportunity to see patients in person, and in the next year, the industry will become even more creative. There’s been huge growth when it comes to virtual conference software where “attendees” can engage and work together in fun, collaborative ways rather than just listening to a lecture in a virtual environment. By leveraging new technologies like AI and extended reality, healthcare professionals can elevate telecommunication tools to both teach students and appropriately train those already in the field. More investment into these software-based virtual learning tactics will enable more active learning experiences as opposed to simple and less-engaging didactics.
We will start expanding the conversation around – and definition of – telehealth. In 2020, the term mainly refers to a video call between a provider and a patient. But, telehealth is about healthcare being delivered virtually. It doesn’t start with the call or end when the patient hangs up. It’s about managing care remotely. For example, using data gathered to trigger events and drive healthy outcomes. 2020 was about “tele-video;” 2021 will be about “telehealth:” How can/will the healthcare system help patients live a healthy life remotely?
Digital Medicine will continue to adjust and change based on new technologies, patient needs and insurance reimbursement trends. We are seeing clinicians and health systems changing behaviors quickly as patients are making health choices around many variables including forward thinking technology, pandemic safety and flexibility options for patients including a blend of virtual, on-demand and in-person care. As AI and risk modeling move to the forefront, we will continue to see exciting shifts in proactive care in 2021 and beyond.
Tragically, a significant level of health-related technology will be shaped by the on-going tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. As providers seek to manage continued COVID hospitalizations, post-COVID patients suffering from chronic conditions, vaccine advocacy and ambulatory volume normalcy, many will focus on extending and maximizing their digital health resources in several areas:
Digital Care Redesign and Experience: The pandemic has forced hospitals to accelerate their digital maturation and transformation. Much of this transformation has been reactive and will need to be fully integrated into existing care design and patient journey models. While remote health and telehealth models of care delivery increase access and patient engagement, there will likely be more research devoted to its impact on patient experience and provider/patient satisfaction. In addition, hospitals will generate increased data on the impact of increase remote care on overall patient outcomes.
Healthcare Disparities: COVID-19 has done nothing if not reinforced the racial and economic disparities in our understanding of population health and care delivery. Sadly, Black and Brown communities are at higher risk of infection and death from this virus. With the proliferation of mobile device use in all socioeconomic groups, hospitals will begin to better leverage mobile device solutions to improve monitoring and medical adherence in communities who suffer from disparities in care.
Vaccination Planning and Advocacy: An inconsistent federal response to the pandemic combined with historic controversies surrounding vaccinations, will create challenges with COVID 19 vaccine adoption. As trusted sources of healthcare in their communities, hospitals will assume of the role of chief vaccine “evangelists” by assuring safe and effective vaccinations. Public and personalized digital communications will drive effective vaccine messaging and tracking.
One of the pandemic’s silver linings is that the value of remote monitoring and telehealth is more demonstrable than ever. As a result, healthcare has taken at least a three-year leap forward in delivering quality care more efficiently and in the comfort and safety of home. Having had a taste of the future, providers are now rapidly embracing it. The downstream impact of this will be an acceleration of value-based relationships, including payer-provider partnerships, to transition care services to virtual and in-home. Healthcare IT must now fast-follow this, with solutions that streamline the billing process and capture the appropriate measures for value-based contracts. The hard part is capturing those measures, requiring the tracking of every patient-provider interaction, a byproduct of remote monitoring. In short, the natural evolution of fee-for-service to value-based care is taking a giant step forward in 2021.
Going into 2021 and beyond, Digital Medicine will play a key role in making sure patients of all backgrounds, geographies and stages of life get access to quality medical care when and where they need it. While consumers in general are adapting to a rapidly changing environment, we are seeing changed behavior in retail, banking, remote work, etc. as people adjust to home delivery and on-demand services. Patients seeking healthcare services are no different as they realize the benefits in safety, privacy and convenience of having a virtual house call with their personal doctor in the privacy of their own home or remote monitoring of vital signs. The patient care experience has not changed much since the 1980s, and we are finally seeing the future of medicine that involves more convenience and safety. Patients’ changing needs and demands will drive healthcare changes into the future and it’s looking bright.
The Rise of Telehealth Usage in Clinical Trials
It’s no secret that telehealth has made waves across the entire healthcare industry in 2020 due to the pandemic. This has been especially true for clinical trials, where pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations have accelerated their shift to virtual and hybrid decentralized clinical trial approaches using telehealth and remote patient monitoring technologies. Regulatory agencies worldwide have provided support for these remote technologies to continue the development of life-saving treatments. This shift will undoubtedly continue into 2021 as the pandemic remains a concern and as patients increasingly recognize the ease and flexibility of virtual visits.
2020 brought the critical nature of virtual care to the forefront as health systems struggled to deal with the pandemic. As we move into 2021, we are seeing that a blend of multiple technologies can offer a unique perspective and improve how virtual care impacts patients. Combining Augmented Information (aka AI machine learning) with wearables and two-way video will be a game changer for virtual care. Each of these components have had varied success to date in individual use cases, but we believe the real power and benefit will come by combining them into a comprehensive virtual platform that will help providers improve outcomes across more patients as they extend the hospital room outside of the physical building and into patients’ homes.
As patients navigate the post-pandemic landscape and re-visit deferred healthcare needs, convenience will trump brand loyalty and health systems will need to contend with increased competition – and much higher consumer expectations around digital access. Investments to bring care services and options to healthcare consumers, on their terms, will be critical for brand growth and patient retention. Consumer self-scheduling, available through multiple digital channels, will be a key differentiator as patients look for friction-free ways to navigate to the best care options and access methods (e.g., in-person, virtual) for their needs. For the many health systems that rapidly rose to the challenge of better connecting their communities to care online, after the explosion of use of many digital point solutions during 2020, there will be a rationalization to those that are truly enterprise-capable and can be fully integrated throughout their digital stacks for more cohesive digital experiences.
2021 will separate the winners from the losers in healthcare. The deciding factor is digital. The global coronavirus pandemic has accelerated healthcare’s digital transformation at an unprecedented rate. Those who win in an increasingly digital-first world will embrace the four “Big Moves” to emerge stronger:
- Own the onramp: Win on access. Provide convenience and optimize capacity by operating a virtual-first service model and marketplace that attracts the consumer through chat, text, voice, websites, or apps.
- Hyper-personalized care orchestration: Win on loyalty. Build enduring consumer relationships through data-driven, hyper-personalized care experiences. Create data architecture that delivers continuous data integration, consumes 1st- and 3rd-party data, and provides an intelligence layer.
- Specialty care double down: Win on value. Transform the specialty care experience by applying enterprise digital tools, thereby winning consumer, provider, payer, and employer loyalty.
- New work: Win on cost structure. Re-engineer work with intelligent automation and “phygital” (physical – digital) integration to lower cost structure, improve provider experience, and create more flexible capacity.
Taking action on each of these moves will require a meaningful investment of time, capital, and talent. The risk of inaction or simply dabbling in digital is an existential one in the face of record investments in digital health from venture capital, private equity, and big tech. To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems must and will make the leap from “doing digital” to actually “being digital.”