When I wrote about megatrends last year, the predictions were, naturally, forward-looking. Telehealth, for example, was important because of increased healthcare consumerism and the convergence of technologies to make its use quick and easy for payers, providers and patients.
Now when I look at telehealth as one of several 2021 megatrends, it’s tinged by the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than telehealth being a nice-to-have in 2020 with adoption over time, the service has become a necessity needed in real-time caused by the pandemic’s social distancing mandate and the highly communicable nature of the virus.
Each 2021 megatrend has the pandemic front and center. The pandemic exposed many issues facing the healthcare industry. Challenges and problems that weren’t a surprise, but simply rose to the top astonishingly quickly as the healthcare industry responded to the pandemic. The pandemic is and will continue to propel many analytics challenges and needs throughout healthcare.
Coronavirus sets the stage
Now that we’ve established the pandemic as the dominant megatrend across healthcare businesses worldwide, we’re going to take a deeper look at the pandemic’s impact on the industry: payers and providers, members and patients.
As COVID-19 rapidly descended, many different types of organizations changed to partial or fully remote workforce operations and took necessary measures to preserve the safety and health of employees. After securing operations, organizations quickly started to understand how they could help clients navigate the pandemic.
Much of the work in healthcare IT (HIT) was shaped by COVID-19. We wanted to help payers and providers understand the impact of the pandemic on business, financial and clinical outcomes to help healthcare remain viable for the many people working for the organizations or receiving care.
The following are 2021’s healthcare megatrends.
Telehealth goes mainstream as the new normal
The first major pandemic-propelled trend that everyone is talking about is increased telehealth usage. Many of us, my family included, began seeing our doctors online for the first time because of the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported a staggering change for Medicare and Medicaid populations. Telehealth use was 0.1% of overall health services in January 2020, but by April it had increased to 45.9% of utilization. (Telehealth use by Medicare and Medicaid patients later decreased to 20%.)
Meanwhile, Definitive Healthcare reported in June 2020 that 33 percent of inpatient hospitals offered telehealth in 2019. By June 2020 that was up to 75%; another staggering increase. We see telehealth here to stay after COVID-19 is controlled. Utilization likely will come down from current pandemic levels, but industry analysts almost universally predict telehealth adoption will remain high as mainstream patients adopt and become comfortable with the technology. (Last year, an increase in the use of telehealth was one of our megatrends, though for different reasons.)
Kristin Simonini, vice president of product, Applause
Healthcare has long been looked at as a laggard when it comes to adopting digital services. Part of that is due to the stringent regulations of the industry and the sensitivity surrounding personally identifiable information. Part of the blame, however, falls on healthcare providers themselves. As more and more providers in the industry start to embrace digital innovation, a number of key trends emerged over the past decade including:
The embrace of mobile technology for scheduling appointments and other routine tasks
Telehealth patients accessing doctors for consults, education, and certain outpatient treatments across a variety of fields
The IoT explosion (Fitbits and other wearables) providing customers health information to drive the healthcare they receive
Healthcare’s focus on patient experience means bringing a critical eye to current digital experiences. Ease-of-use and inclusivity must be considered in order to ensure high-quality digital experiences across all touchpoints, particularly on smartwatches, tablets, and smart speakers
In terms of predictions for 2020, we expect use of voice technology will continue to grow and will empower the healthcare industry in new ways, including supporting patients. The benefits that voice brings to healthcare can be seen in medical record transcriptions, chatbots sharing the work, sharing knowledge, voice-user interface, and connecting clinics to customers.
In addition, AI will continue to impact the healthcare industry in numerous ways. As healthcare embraces AI, it will also need to address issues of bias. All types of AI – from virtual assistants learning how different users ask for the same thing, to healthcare apps identifying potential health issues from uploaded photos – have been hampered by the same challenge: sourcing enough data to teach the machine how to interpret and respond, and then testing the output at scale to ensure the results are accurate and human-like when necessary. To mitigate bias concerns, healthcare will need to make AI more representative of patients
Today, healthcare payers and providers are spending nearly $30 billion every year on analytics and using over 415 different vendors for their analytics needs. This is a tremendous waste of resources and time. We’ll see an accelerating trend toward converged analytics solutions that cross clinical, financial and operational boundaries to enterprise analytics solutions.
Enterprise analytics will dramatically increase the speed and efficacy of population health programs because when you have both fresh claims-based data and clinical analytics you can diagnosis, intervene and engage in care management programs far faster and with much greater confidence in the data and results. This is where healthcare will be moving in 2020.
In the year ahead the health care sector is going to continue to see investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. That dimension of innovation in hi-tech will continue to evolve and emerge and markets will slowly open and mature.
I believe health information exchange or HIE – once known to most of us as regional health information organizations or RHIOs – will be back in vogue. What began more than a decade ago went underground for a while but ACOs and other initiatives have resurrected HIE infrastructure and made it abundantly clear that HIE is vital to care coordination, outcomes and value-based reimbursement (VBR). All-provider clinical messaging, outcomes measure, quality assurance, transitions in care, cost and utilization management, and referral management absolutely must be supported by HIE infrastructure.
Biometrics will continue their spread and companies such as Apple and Google (for better or for worse) are making it clear they see the future and are investing accordingly.
Lastly, population health management platforms that enable functions like risk stratification will see tremendous growth.
Tim O’Malley, president and chief growth officer, EarlySense
Technology advancements over the past decade have enabled us to accurately track millions of physiological patient parameters in real time. As we head into 2020, the industry will continue to leverage the incredible power of AI-driven “smart data” and analytics to not only predict potential adverse patient events, but also prevent them.
Patient care will continue to become even more personalized and new standards for patient safety will emerge. Predictive analytics will be used across the continuum of care- from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities and homes- to support health staff and patients, improving clinical outcomes while also creating a potential for significant financial savings.