Three Digital Healthcare Trends That Will Gain Strength In 2021
Digital health has played a key role in meeting the challenges ushered in by the pandemic — from reimagining new ways to administer routine care virtually to rapidly deploying field hospitals when and where facilities needed them most.
Far from interrupting progress toward achieving strategic technology goals for providers, the pandemic illustrated how new technologies — some of which have been waiting in the wings for years — could be implemented and bring multiple advantages to providers.
The stature of these capabilities grew in 2020, and these trends will continue to flourish and be increasingly important for healthcare organizations this year. Here are the trends that will continue to gain momentum in the next decade.
Cloud Proving Its Value
Cloud infrastructure enabled facilities to rapidly deploy field hospitals and move services to where they could most safely be administered. What’s more, the cloud enables more streamlined movement of clinical records between disparate medical records systems.
In recent years, more healthcare organizations are moving to the cloud. According to a report by West Monroe Partners, of the healthcare organizations surveyed, 35% held more than half of their data or infrastructure in the cloud. That reflects the desire of healthcare organizations to reduce IT costs and improve data access.
Additionally, an enterprise index report by Nutanix found that 70% of healthcare industry respondents reported "that Covid-19 has caused IT to be viewed more strategically within their organizations," giving rapid rise to digital transformation. Respondents expect hybrid cloud deployments to increase by 32 percentage points over the next five years, the study found.
The cloud provides boundless storage for healthcare organizations, which generate large quantities of data from clinical systems, especially imaging systems. Much of that data needs to be stored long term, and cloud storage can be a more affordable solution than expanding data centers on-site. The cloud also holds advantages for hospital systems that need to easily share information, images and records across multiple care venues regardless of physical location or network system compatibility.
The cloud also holds the promise of supporting big data analytic efforts, particularly efforts that span multiple organizations. For example, Amazon Web Services has announced the launch of HealthLake, a cloud storage and analysis service enabling healthcare and life sciences to manage and apply machine learning to analyze data in the cloud.
Consumerization Of Healthcare And Patient Portals
The pandemic confronted consumers with the need to be more proactive in taking care of themselves, and remote and virtual services showed the range of care options that they have because of technology.
Consumer expectations have changed in recent years, due in part to their experiences in other industries. From home delivery of prescription medication to sleek electronics that measure health vital signs, such as the Apple Watch or devices like the AliveCor's KardiaMobile personal EKG, healthcare is becoming a more consumer-oriented business.
This revolution extends beyond digital health devices — healthcare information is more readily available, and consumers have more information on their health conditions, prompting many people to become more active in their care and ask providers for options. In addition, the future vision of healthcare is predicated on consumers having access to their own information and using it to make better purchasing decisions.
The patient portal continues to be a widely used tool that aims to strengthen the bond between patients and their providers by becoming a single source of consolidated patient information. And in the near future, the move to FHIR-enabled application programming interfaces will help patients access their health information from providers and insurers more easily through third-party apps.
Telehealth Is Here To Stay For The Long Run
The use of virtual care technology had languished for years because of reimbursement issues, licensure problems and the unwillingness of patients and providers to use it, but all that changed in 2020. A McKinsey report noted that the pandemic caused a massive acceleration in the use of telehealth, with U.S. consumer adoption soaring from 11% in 2019 to 46% now using it in lieu of face-to-face healthcare visits as of May 2020.
The pandemic has also led to increased dependence on technology to support remote patient care monitoring, telebehavioral and telepsychology, and the use of organization-approved, integrated apps that can support patient interactions and engagement.
As vaccines and population health measures take hold to better control the pandemic, patients as consumers are likely to want the convenience of virtually interacting with care providers, and insurers may find it’s more cost-effective for people to receive basic care online rather than through in-person visits.
This year holds innovative new advancements for digital healthcare. I expect we will see these and many more trends evolve over the next 10 years.