Six Digital Health Trends For 2021

By Anish Sebastian, CEO, Babyscripts 

Anish Sebastian

Remember Instagram’s “Ten Year Challenge”? When ‘grammars were posting pictures of themselves from a decade before, next to one from the present day? Now we’re seeing the “2020 Challenge” — and this time, it’s a picture from March next to a present day picture.

The healthcare industry is the perfect microcosm of this decades-long year. With consumer adoption of telehealth skyrocketing by 400% in the period between the close of 2019 and April 2020, virtual health has gone from a novelty to necessity. You could argue that ten years froth of change has taken place in less than a year, and certainly healthcare is all but unrecognizable from what it was in March 2020.

That said, it may seem like a gutsy move to make predictions for the healthcare industry after the year we’ve just had, but I’m a gutsy guy, so here goes:

Big tech, Big everything getting into healthcare. Or will they? 

Amazon, Alphabet and Apple all made deals in 2019 to purchase digital health startups, and those healthcare arms saw rapid growth this year, along with those from other Big Tech companies like Zoom and Microsoft jumping in with new healthcare products and features. Partnerships between Big Tech and healthcare organizations dominated the newswire, and subtrend Mergers and Acquisitions activity has picked up and will continue to. But Big Tech has been in the news for other reasons recently, as leading execs have come under scrutiny for data, privacy and security issues — most recently testifying before the House Antitrust Subcommittee for an investigation into misuse of data, among other concerns — significant concerns for the healthcare field.

Beyond telemedicine

Telemedicine was the finger in the dyke at the beginning of pandemic panic, with healthcare providers grabbing whatever came to hand — encouraged by relaxed HIPAA regulations — to keep the dam from breaking. But as the dust settles, telemedicine is emerging as the commodity that it is, and value-add services are going to be the differentiating factors in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Offerings like remote patient monitoring and asynchronous communication, initially considered as “nice-to-haves,” are becoming standard offerings as healthcare providers see their value for continuous care beyond COVID.

Workflow is King … and Queen, and the whole Royal Family?

Yes, I’m a broken record, but I can’t emphasize it enough — Covid sent digital health adoption into overdrive. Late majority adopters essentially free-fell into digital health, without the typical months-long implementation timeline. Providers are looking for solutions that will seamlessly and quickly incorporate into their human workflows. An inferior product with a better workflow will always win out over its superiors, and that is a guarantee you can take to the bank. We’re going to see product offerings with more and easier integrations, and talk of API, HL7, FHIR, app stores, and marketplaces will continue.

More money, more problems

If this year is any indication, 2021 will be the biggest in healthcare funding to date. Pre-COVID-19, the total annual revenues of U.S. telehealth players were an estimated $3 billion, with the largest vendors focused on virtual urgent care, according to the most recent McKinsey report. The report estimates that telehealth will represent a share up to $250 billion this year. That’s 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial outpatient, office, and home health. We’re going to see more IPO, roll-ups and VC activity.

It’s a double-edged sword. This could put the digital healthcare industry at risk of overheating and creating a bubble (if there isn’t one already) that is set to burst.

Payers pay and providers provide 

As policy-makers roll back previous expansions for digital health reimbursement, payers are going to start looking for other mechanisms by which to reimburse and adopt digital healthcare that are outside of the normal CPT and billing models. Relieved from financial pressures, providers will be able to refocus their energy on delivering high quality care in a real-time manner with the aid of IoT and remote monitoring solutions.

One thing we can say for sure going into 2021, healthcare will never be the same after Covid-19. The only thing we can predict with certainty is that life in the new decade is going to be defined by the ways in which we respond to the unpredictable.

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