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Healthcare Innovation, Catalyst For Change and Tips For The Year Ahead: Experts Weigh In

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for accelerating many changes in the healthcare industry, hastening new innovations and putting a national spotlight on the need to improve care, vital health infrastructure, and transparency in how data is collected, stored and used.

Many experts believe 2021 will be the year of patient controlled-health and digital-first care, as consumers at-large shift from needing telehealth, virtual care and digital wellness tools to fully embracing them as part of their lives. These changes, born out of necessity, are poised to pervade all aspects of care and impact stakeholders across the industry. From doctors incorporating smart watches and apps into routine care to a complete overhaul of data practices and a renewed emphasis on price transparency, we’re in store for some sweeping changes in the year ahead.

Despite its incredible tragedy, the pandemic has brought to light many challenges the industry has been facing for years and forced us to address them head-on, with the hope that this year will bring solutions to those problems to light, as well. Electronic Health Reporter talked to 11 industry experts to get their thoughts on what’s to come. Here’s what they had to say:

2021 will be the year of patient controlled-health – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer, GoodCell

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the realities of a global-scale health event – and our general lack of preparedness to address it – to the forefront. People are now laser focused on how they can protect themselves and their families against the next inevitable threat. On top of this, social distancing and isolation accelerated development and use of digital health tools, from wellness trackers to telehealth and virtual care, most of which can be accessed from the comfort of our homes. The convergence of these two forces is poised to make 2021 the year for patient-controlled health, whereby health decisions are not dictated by – but rather made in consultation with – a healthcare provider, leveraging insights and data pulled from a variety of health technology tools at people’s fingertips.

Knowing your susceptibility profile will become part of the standard of care – Trevor Perry, Founder and CEO, GoodCell

While the pandemic is turning our concept of vulnerability on its head, knowing your susceptibility profile will become part of the standard of care. We’ve witnessed otherwise healthy people succumb to the virus or experience long-term ramifications as a result of infection. This is changing people’s expectations around routine care and creating renewed interest among patients to know potential health challenges and have greater control on actions you can take to approach those challenges. We’ll witness tangible steps in 2021 toward democratizing these data and their ability to inform proactive care and disease management.

Healthcare and wellness will be inextricably linked post-pandemic – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer, GoodCell

Economic uncertainty, childcare concerns, burnout at work and social isolation, among many other factors, has brought stress and its impacts to the forefront of the health care conversation. Normally, society has served as an alleviating force, with evenings out and vacations offering a respite from work and home stressors. With those comforts stripped away, people are finding it harder to simply “get by.” 2021 will see an even greater emphasis placed on sleep, mindfulness and other mental health strategies. Subsequently, we’re poised to see an uptick in adoption of the digital tools and services helping people manage these areas of their lives and general wellness, as people strive for a sense of control amid so much uncertainty.

Data will help signal value-based care as the future of health plan offering – Kris Fitzgerald, CTO, NTT DATA Services

Quality metrics for health plans – like data  that measures performance – was turned on its head in 2020 due to delayed procedures. In the coming year, we will see a lot of plans interpret these delayed procedures flexibly so they honor their plans without impacting providers. However, for so long, the payer’s use of data and the provider’s use of data has been disconnected. Moving forward the need for providers to have a more specific understanding of what drives the value and if the cost is reasonable for care from the payer perspective is paramount. Data will ensure that this collaboration will be enhanced and the concept of bundle payments and aligning incentives will be improved. As the data captured becomes even richer, it will help people plan and manage their care better. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) to this data will also play a huge role in both dialog and negotiation when it comes to cost structure. This movement will lead to a spike in value-based care adoption.

Healthcare professionals will embrace digital tools as part of their assessments and guidance to patients – Dr. Salvatore Viscomi, Chief Medical Officer, GoodCell

Acceleration of telehealth and personal health devices, a trial-by-fire of their capabilities through wide-scale adoption, has increased comfort levels with these concepts and reliance on these tools. This also goes for medical professionals themselves. 2021 will see healthcare professionals getting more comfortable with these data, and factoring wearables and at-home testing kits into their assessments and guidance to patients.

In the age of data democratization, companies must prove they deserve our data – Craig Eisler, Chief Technology Officer, GoodCell

Perceptions of medical data will shift dramatically in 2021, motivated by increased awareness of consumers’ medical information and how it’s shared. The pandemic has brought medical research into the public eye like never before. It has also left many wanting to know more about their own health and how their medical data could be used to help others. However, an inherent lack of trust in companies’ abilities to keep data safe remains an industry-wide challenge. In the coming year, health and health technology companies will not only have to demonstrate they are deserving of people’s data, but also communicate the value that data can provide for the greater good if they are able to access it.

Covid-19 will continue to compromise patient data, setting back efforts to fight the virus – Theresa Kushner, Senior Director of Data Intelligence and Automation, NTT DATA Services

COVID-19 is an assault on privacy in the absence of data governance. Privacy regulations and protections of personal health data have been thrown out the window, along with the pandemic response playbook, as the public sector and healthcare industry scramble to aggregate as much data as they can on COVID-19 through personal health records and contact tracing – rendered as public information. Similar to other crises in history, regulation, privacy and governance fall by the wayside during reconnaissance. I believe the lack of regulation and governance around healthcare data will result in setbacks to overcoming the virus in the next several months, not to mention that it’s compromising patient data.

 Elective services will return – but they’ll be competitive – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital

Healthcare shopping activity for elective services will increase in 2021 as patients begin to feel more comfortable re-entering medical settings. The desire to shop around for these services and research costs ahead of time will also increase given the financial impact of the pandemic on many Americans’ wallets. According to a recent study, 68% of U.S. adults report that they would research costs of health care procedures prior to going for care if there was an easy way to view the total medical cost for the procedure or their personal out-of-pocket costs. Spreading awareness of the resources available to compare care services will be vital to helping patients choose and receive high-value care in the new year.

2021 is a clear year for healthcare price transparency – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital

Over the past year, healthcare price transparency has been a key topic for the Trump administration in an effort to lower healthcare costs for Americans. In recent months, COVID-19 has made the topic more important to patients than ever before. Starting in January, we can expect the incoming Biden administration to not only support the existing federal transparency regulations, but also continue to push for more transparency and innovation within Medicare. I anticipate that healthcare price transparency will continue its momentum in 2021 as one of two Price Transparency rules takes effect and the Biden administration supports this movement.”

Consolidation of digital healthcare companies can’t stop, won’t stop – Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of Sapphire Digital

This year has seen the consolidation of digital healthcare companies as new entrants look to move into and expand within healthcare. Big names like Amazon, Google, and Apple, have begun taking on larger roles in patients’ lives and in the healthcare industry. This shift is likely to accelerate in 2021 as patients view their health as a more holistic part of their lives and look for tools that support them in every step of their healthcare journey.

From Economic Hardship Emerges Patient-First, Digital Based Care — Dr. Justin Graham, Chief Medical Officer, GYANT

The rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine is a monumental achievement, but it does nothing to address our extremely fragmented healthcare system. In 2021, policy makers must create and extend incentives to providers to work together to keep patients healthy rather than maximize profit. The pandemic has devastated the traditional fee-for-service budgets of many healthcare systems, and it isn’t clear they will ever be able to catch up without additional federal or local funding, or succeeding with radically different business models. Fortunately, this time of difficult budget decisions and value-based care models coincides with an explosion in growth of digital health tools that are being readily embraced by patients that are happy to see healthcare providers adopt technology familiar to them in other settings. This convergence of demand for technology and innovation by health systems and patients will enable providers to be able to reach new populations while continuing to serve their communities that have been impacted by the pandemic.

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The Year Ahead: Preparing For Widespread COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment

By Stefan Behrens, co-founder and CEO, GYANT.

Stefan Behrens

The past year presented a number of unprecedented challenges for hospitals and health systems. The COVID-19 pandemic placed significant strain on providers, causing a demand for care that their systems were simply not built to handle.

Thankfully, we live in an age of digital health technology, with an array of innovative tools ready to meet multiple hospital needs during this time. Seamlessly deployed across the board, digital health solutions helped ease the burden on hospital resources, providing much needed relief for frontline workers and systems struggling with strained resources.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the U.S. with vaccines rapidly coming to market, the single biggest challenge in 2021 will be managing the demand, deployment and administrative requirements of the vaccine.

Vaccine Approval

With COVID-fatigue plaguing the nation, individuals everywhere are anxiously monitoring vaccine availability in hopes that they bring us one step closer to ending this pandemic. Now approved by the FDA, COVID-19 vaccines will be in high demand across the country. What’s more, patients are going to have questions – what is the distribution plan in my area? Am I eligible? Where and how do I receive vaccination?

The COVID-19 vaccine will be available in a phased approach, with priority populations varying state-by-state, and in some cases by zip code.  It is expected that, in most states, frontline workers and the most vulnerable populations will be first to receive immunization. Considering the approval, providers need to be prepared with digital tools and infrastructure to manage the huge onslaught of patient inquiries and vaccine demand along with ongoing support for booster, side effects, and follow-up interactions.

Virtual Assistants for Vaccine Distribution

Technology can provide that infrastructure, helping providers avoid becoming overwhelmed by the demand while also ensuring a safe and seamless experience for patients, which in turn will help accelerate widespread immunity protection.

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