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TrendsSeptember 28, 2021

Exploring the Top 10 Trends in Digital Healthcare

Exploring the Top 10 Trends in Digital Healthcare

Today, healthcare looks much different than it did just one decade ago. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are reshaping hospitals and health systems across the world, empowering providers to maintain care to their patients amid a global staffing crisis and widespread resource shortages.

Increasingly, executives are experimenting with AI-enabled tools as a means to transform both patient-facing clinical processes and internal systems. In one KPMG survey, 89% of respondents reported that AI is already creating new efficiencies in their systems, and 91% have successfully leveraged the technology to increase patient access to care.

As care systems continue to adopt AI and automation, providers seek to deliver more personalized care, built on what McKinsey has described as “seamless data capture, management, and exchange.” Successfully rolling out these programs and implementing AI-driven technologies will prove essential to expanding quality patient care and managing costs in the years to come.

The ten biggest trends in digital healthcare

To capture the care and cost benefits associated with new technologies, leaders across the healthcare sector will need to respond to a series of disruptive trends, the most prominent of which are:

1. AI and machine learning

The core principle of AI is the ability to perform tasks that otherwise require human deliberation, such as making decisions, perceiving images, and recognizing speech. AI and machine learning (ML) – an AI subset, involving algorithms that improve without human intervention – have numerous health-specific applications such as:

  • Assisting administrative workflows: AI and ML can automate traditionally manual and time-consuming tasks, including entering insurance card information, obtaining prior authorization for services, and scrubbing medical claims for errors.
  • Diagnosing diseases: By scanning through thousands of images in seconds, AI and ML-enabled applications can diagnose complex conditions such as celiac disease much more rapidly than humans. 
  • Discovering drugs: Developing a novel treatment costs an average of $2.6 billion, but AI and ML may lower the cost. Algorithms can analyze patient records, clinical trials, and research papers to understand and shorten the path to discovery.

In 2021, health AI and ML was a $6.6 billion market, compared to $600 million just seven years prior, according to Accenture. Among all the trends discussed here, AI and ML may have the most growth potential and lasting influence.

2. The Internet of Medical Things

More medical devices are connecting to networks and sharing data with healthcare applications via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) in the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). Deloitte estimated that 48% of all medical devices were connected in 2018, but that 68% of them would be by 2023

Within the IoMT are numerous such networked devices, ranging from sleep monitors and air quality sensors to wearables that provide reminders to take medications. Some hospitals are even using RFID tags and infrared sensors together with AI-powered computer vision, for real-time monitoring of hospital bed availability. 

In the context of COVID-19, the IoMT has been instrumental in enabling remote patient monitoring (RPM), through specialized devices that transmit data back to a provider. More than 23 million U.S. patients used RPM tools and services in 2020.

3. Wearables

Wearables are particularly important components of the IoMT. They can read vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure for RPM purposes – for instance, detecting arrhythmia, or falls – or for personal use by wearers looking to change their eating and exercising habits.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, has identified four major reasons that wearable technology has become a fixture in healthcare:

  • It’s highly personalized and it follows the patient everywhere.
  • It continuously tracks and encourages behaviors that can affect one’s likelihood of being affected by conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
  • It works in real time, providing reminders via notifications for the wearer to stand, exercise, or take other health-related actions.
  • It’s relatively affordable across the world.

Healthcare wearables range from general-purpose devices such as smartwatches to more specialized ones such as glucose monitors. Even in the latter group, internet connectivity is now a key component for sharing information with providers.

4. Digital transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many digital transformation initiatives at healthcare organizations, as hospitals and health systems looked to modernize how they collect, store, and exchange data. 

Before 2020, data silos were the norm. Now centralized health information exchanges (HIEs) are more common. One such HIE, HealthHIE Nevada, increased the amount of data it exchanged via its patient portal by 36% between March and May 2020, according to EHRIntelligence. This information includes physician notes, test results, care summaries, and more.

Other prominent digital transformation initiatives include secure direct messaging across electronic health record (EHR) systems and e-prescribing. Concerning the latter, vendors like Surescripts have seen major uptake of EHR-embedded solutions that let prescribers see therapeutic alternatives to drugs, real-time pricing data, and pertinent insurance coverage details.

5. Telehealth

Related to the trend above, providers have focused on creating a “digital front door” to their services, with better self-service for enabling telehealth visits in particular. Before the pandemic, only 11% of patients were using telehealth services, but by September 2020, three-quarters of them were, per a Wolters Kluwer study.

Telehealth aligns with the broader consumerization of healthcare via digital portals and applications. Radiology and psychology/psychiatry patients are the most likely individuals to take advantage of convenient telehealth appointments. At the same time, telehealth has become common in specialties such as internal medicine, family medicine, and neurology, too, according to Doximity.

McKinsey foresees an even more expansive future for telehealth, estimating it could soon become a $250 billion industry as solutions such as e-triage roll out. Health plans may also become “virtual-first,” using virtual visits as the primary mode of interaction to increase convenience and reduce premiums.

6. VR and AR

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have often been touted for their potential in use cases like video gaming and real estate, but they have significant potential in healthcare as well – especially when combined with data sources across the IoMT.

Let’s say a patient is receiving treatment for a cardiac condition. Data from sensors like eye trackers and x-ray machines could be integrated into an AR application, which in turn uses AI and ML to create a digital twin of that patient’s heart.

This virtual heart, when viewed through AR glasses, lets physicians see movements in real time and see how potential changes would play out – all safely in the digital domain. VR can be even more immersive, by helping simulate what life is like for patients with specific diseases, to in turn refine the types of treatment they receive.

7. Robots

In healthcare, “robot” can mean either a software robot that powers a robotic process automation (RPA) solution or physical robots that assists with hands-on tasks including surgeries and exercises regimens. Both types are becoming more integrated into digital healthcare.

Worth approximately $2 billion in 2020, the healthcare RPA market could expand at a 31% compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2026, according to Research and Markets. RPA involves scripts that can handle tasks such as appointment scheduling and filing insurance claims.

Hardware robots are versatile. They can serve as a screen on wheels for telehealth meetings, help with stocking medical supplies, or guide a patient’s rehabilitation. However, there are some ethical and publicity issues that must be navigated before these robots can gain traction, according to a peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

8. Cloud

Cloud computing has reshaped every industry, although healthcare was historically somewhat slower than other sectors in adopting public cloud services. In the wake of COVID-19, though, cloud adoption has accelerated and hybrid cloud deployments, in particular, have become popular.

A hybrid cloud combines on-premises and/or private cloud resources with public cloud ones. A December 2020 Nutanix survey found that healthcare was likelier than any other industry to embrace hybrid cloud. The ability to control costs and security parameters within a hybrid cloud architecture was particularly appealing to survey respondents.

Overall, cloud offers greater scalability and elasticity than on-premises infrastructure. Plus, it delivers convenient access to advanced AI and ML engines that are useful for interpreting the growing amounts of data that healthcare organizations now work with.

9. Analytics 

Extracting insights from this sea of information requires data architectures such as data warehouses and data lakes, which excel at integrating data sources and storing massive amounts of raw data, respectively. Healthcare organizations have turned to cloud-based analytics platforms that let them load and query information through these architectures, more quickly and at a greater scale, than they ever could on-premises.

Amazon HealthLake shows what’s possible on this front, as it enables the sharing of data in the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, or FHIR, format. It also uses ML to standardize this information. With such solutions in place, healthcare organizations can better use analytics in areas like revenue cycle management and population health management.

10. Employee wellness apps

Wellness apps have become important channels for monitoring employee mental health and job satisfaction. By answering a few questions and/or following an app’s prompts, workers can express how they are feeling and possibly work out stress-related issues, too.

The popularity of wellness apps is apparent in the amounts of venture capital startups like Calm have been able to raise. Major platform operators, including Apple, have also made it easy to share data from health and wellness apps to deliver more insights to their providers and personalize their care accordingly.

Capitalizing on digital health opportunities

Healthcare is now at the forefront of innovation and real-world use of numerous emerging technologies. As your team looks ahead and considers how to build applications that can serve the interests of patients and providers in this new landscape, the Transcenda team can help. 

As an experienced development partner, we can help launch your next project to success. Learn more by connecting with us directly!

Anastasia Budkina

Head of Global Marketing