Following a year marked by one challenging headline after another in 2020, news in the fight against COVID-19 will likely turn better in 2021 thanks to improved treatments and the arrival of effective vaccines. From a Health IT standpoint, however, both the good news and the bad are together fueling a steady growth in data volumes and complexity that will require new levels of IT coordination and data management.
The reason for this is that medical professionals now have a year’s worth of health metrics on the spread of COVID-19 and reams of structured, unstructured, and behavioral data on treatment regimens and patient outcomes. At the same time, a similar avalanche of data is growing around the administration and efficacy of newly-approved vaccines. Taken together, these factors present challenges of both complexity and scale.
Let’s take a look at three resulting trends we’ll likely see in 2021 as data-driven professionals seek to address these challenges through better ways to leverage information for insight and action against the global pandemic.
Trend 1: Enhanced adoption of common health IT data standards – Whether it’s through the ANSI-accredited Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) schema or similar frameworks, we’ll see a push to standardize health-related data across mobile phone apps, cloud communications, EHR-based data sharing, server communication in large institutional healthcare providers, and more. The goal is to break down silos between these disparate data sources and platforms. And there’s a cultural component to the silo-busting as well, in that common standards and definitions for data can also help technologists and business users collaborate more efficiently. That can be a challenge in any domain area; but in the case of COVID-19, success around seamless, secure, and proactive analysis of data can literally save lives.
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.