By John Danaher, MD, president, global clinical solutions, Elsevier.
At the beginning of last year, we all had our own thoughts on how the year would unfold. However, a few months into 2020, we realized that the year would be quite different than we previously imagined because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 2021 underway, we will continue to witness the digital transformation of the healthcare industry that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clinicians were quick to embrace different types of innovative technology, such as telemedicine platforms and non-contact solutions to track patient vitals, that allowed them to provide patient care remotely. I believe that in 2021, we will continue to see an evolution of technology to assist clinicians and widespread adoption of digital health services. I also expect the industry will take key learnings with them as we move towards the future, such as the importance of building more trust in science and data.
Investments in AI are paying off
We have seen the impact of AI in the fight against COVID-19, specifically in the diagnosis and tracking of cases, predicting future outbreaks and assisting in selecting treatment plans.
I hope to see more infections decline as populations receive access to the COVID-19 vaccines and I see a renewed focus in how AI can help healthcare systems recover from the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence will be paramount in aiding many healthcare systems’ return to their regular operations as they were pre-pandemic. Artificial intelligence helps systems work faster to address the backlog of patient cases across other diseases and conditions that were postponed due to the pandemic, and deal with the financial strains caused by the virus. These tools can be used in revenue cycle management to assist with staffing, bed and device management, and provide a better understanding of patient utilization.
Artificial intelligence will continue to play a larger role as telemedicine tools and solutions rise in popularity.
Widespread use of telemedicine
One of the longest lasting effects of this pandemic is how clinicians have adjusted their delivery of care. The use of telemedicine applications is now a widely used practice, with the U.S. seeing an increase of 154% in telehealth visits in March 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019. There’s no doubt that the rise in the usage of telehealth services have benefited both healthcare providers and patients.
Mainly, the adoption of services has decreased the number of patients in medical offices seeking non-emergency care and ultimately minimizing the risk of exposure to COVID-19. While telemedicine will not replace in-person care, it will remain a necessity in 2021 and beyond. As patients are now more accustomed to the convenient delivery of care services, they will be more inclined to expect these remote services, along with other services, such as drive through testing sites and at-home delivery of prescription medications that do not require in-person visits.
As the industry evolves these kinds of offerings, I urge healthcare systems to provide audio-only services for hearing-impaired patients, especially for those who require access to behavioral health support and patient education materials. Audio-only services are an innovative solution to connect with underserved populations and ensure they are benefiting from new care delivery modalities. This especially benefits at-risk populations, including seniors, lower-income families and individuals with disabilities.
Improving care with sharing knowledge and data
Throughout this pandemic, I have been proud of Elsevier’s response to provide ongoing support to healthcare and research professionals. As a leader in information and analytics across the global research and health ecosystems, I believe Elsevier has a responsibility to help the medical and research communities by providing materials that support the urgent global effort to understand, contain and eradicate the virus. Since the start of the pandemic, Elsevier has launched and updated free resources such as the Novel Coronavirus Information Hub, and later the subsequent Coronavirus Research Hub and COVID-19 Healthcare Hub.
Each of these hubs were launched with the help of many teams at Elsevier who worked diligently and quickly to create a central location for information that includes the latest research, guidelines, treatment options, patient education resources and other materials for healthcare professionals. Elsevier also created a mental health toolkit that provides tips and resources to healthcare providers on how to manage stress and combat burnout in their professional lives, and also how to help patients.
These resource centers have been accessed globally, and we’ve received positive feedback from physicians and nurses across the world about how these resources have helped them to improve patient care.
Resources such as the COVID hubs, or Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform, which has seen more than 130 million downloads of COVID-19 related research articles in the last six months, are incredibly important to standardize care. Moving forward, I see this becoming a core value for many institutions and vendors, as they have seen how sharing research data, and information on an international scale has led to faster drug and vaccine development and improved overall care for patients.
Overall, the healthcare industry is facing 2021 with many lessons under its belt, and a renewed sense of hope. COVID-19 has compelled us to acknowledge the need for increased integration of AI into existing infrastructure, as well as the importance of telemedicine tools and sharing research and data globally. Together, we will move forward to face new challenges that 2021 may bring, with new insights and resilience.