2020 was an unusual and challenging year as industry stakeholders had to adjust their strategies and operations to adapt. Several trends identified at the end of last year continued to play out with large technology companies investing in healthcare, a major surge in the use of telehealth, and cybersecurity risks mounting. Other projected trends were impacted by regulatory and economic factors, including the push for price transparency and greater interoperability as deadlines were extended for compliance. Looking ahead to 2021, these are the top trends we anticipate for the coming year.
1. Growth of Multichannel Patient Experience Ecosystems
Up to this point, many health systems have focused on deploying communication and coordination solutions for interacting with patients that may or may not be fully integrated. Implementation of patient portals, mobile apps, chatbots, and CRM/PRM systems have often been pursued as standalone projects. Providers and staff may not be completely aware of all patient activity across these various channels, nor able to gain useful insights, leading to a disjointed patient experience.
Moving forward, health systems will increasingly invest in connected multichannel patient experience solutions and ecosystems to gain greater control of patient relationship management and to provide patients with a more seamless and satisfying patient experience. It will be much less likely for them to invest in individual applications and solutions that do not easily connect and share data.
Improving the overall patient experience will be a priority as healthcare organizations try to respond to the needs of consumers and differentiate themselves in their communities. In addition to convenience, patients are seeking immediate access, a consistent experience across all care settings and predictable pricing, among other things. To compete effectively, health systems will need to deploy digital health solutions that support better communication and engagement with patients across the care continuum, regardless of the channel that patients choose to use.
2. AI Tools for Real-Time Decision Support and Improved Data Mining
Artificial intelligence capabilities have dramatically improved over the past year, to the point that they can be reliably used for real-time decision support and automated data mining. Although healthcare providers have been less aggressive in adopting these tools than users in other industries, such as financial services, this will start to accelerate over the coming year.
AI systems and algorithms for chronic care population management have already seen significant traction as have tools for surgical support and image interpretation and diagnosis. To support the transition from volume to value, predictive algorithms that ingest data from EHRs and other source systems will become more common to identify patients at risk and alert providers to schedule earlier interventions.
3. Active Automation of Repetitive Processes and Workflows
Organizations will actively focus on automating any processes and workflows that are repetitive to achieve greater efficiency, increase staff productivity and reduce costs. Key areas that will be targeted include ancillary functions like radiology/imaging and laboratory operations, as well as coding, claims processing and billing. Patient intake and registration will also become increasingly automated and enhanced with patient self-service capabilities.
4. Synchronization of Virtual and Physical Care Delivery
During the pandemic, many patients transitioned to telehealth and urgent care options, which has disrupted the traditional patient relationship with established providers and hospitals. Despite the rapid expansion of telehealth over the past year, integration with physical care delivery systems has lagged, causing disruptions in continuity of care. Moving forward, healthcare providers will seek solutions and services that better document and track all encounters, whether they occur physically or virtually and aggregate and synchronize the data to enhance coordinated care delivery. A key factor will be to capture the data from patient interactions, aggregate it in a centralized repository for analysis and then use the insights to deliver more personalized and relevant patient experiences.
5. Movement from EHR-Centric to Application Platform Models
Although EHRs have been the traditional center of the health IT ecosystem, limitations imposed by vendors and system architectures have driven users to explore more flexible and functional approaches for supporting increasingly diverse requirements. Application platforms will evolve to include functionality on demand that can be used when needed on top of core applications that provide broad capabilities. This will be particularly useful for certain clinical specialties that require unique functions and customizations that core EHRs have challenges delivering.
6. Continued Disruption by Large Tech Companies in Healthcare
Technology and e-commerce giants have demonstrated a significant interest in understanding and investing in healthcare opportunities by leveraging both existing and new capabilities. They bring many advantages to the table, including extensive operational and distribution infrastructure and proficiency in digital and online tools for product and service delivery and support. They also have well-known brand identities that consumers already trust and respect and established relationships with them through the existing products and services that they offer.
7. Leveraging Hybrid Solutions to Address Cybersecurity Risks
Healthcare organizations will increasingly seek more comprehensive solutions to reduce their exposure to security threats and risks, by combining both internally and externally managed assets and resources into hybrid solutions that offer better monitoring and protection. This may involve the use of multiple vendor platforms and outsourcing certain functions in some cases.
Although many healthcare organizations may be philosophically opposed to outsourcing, this is becoming more common in other industries as many companies realize they are not as adept at certain security functions as leading cybersecurity firms are. In addition, they have realized that the required staffing and infrastructure investments may not deliver the impact or ROI they want.
8. Expanded Deployment of Healthcare IoT and Wearables
Wearables have become a more widely adopted technology that consumers adopt voluntarily, and the technologies that power these devices have progressed well beyond traditional fitness tracking. The integration of wearables with remote monitoring systems, EHRs and secure data exchange could create even greater opportunities for preventive action and interoperability between devices. Partnerships are already emerging between providers, payers and vendors to further these goals.
9. Greater Adoption of Hybrid Distributed Cloud Computing
To achieve greater redundancy and reliability and reduce latency, healthcare organizations will increasingly deploy hybrid private cloud environments and subscribe to distributed public cloud computing environments. This will also facilitate compliance with laws that dictate when data must remain in a specific geographical region. They will also continue to migrate more physical systems to the cloud to reduce costs.
10. Development and Deployment of Advanced APIs
Beyond compliance with regulatory requirements, development and deployment of advanced APIs will support a more robust health information exchange ecosystem. Next-generation APIs will facilitate interoperability and ensure more timely data exchanges between EHR systems, mobile apps, sensors and other devices, which can ultimately lead to better patient monitoring and more accurate and timely diagnoses and treatments. APIs will also become more standardized over time, leveraging FHIR.
Many of these trends are interrelated and in combination will produce other effects, including new product and service opportunities such as AI-enabled mobile apps, enhanced privacy and security solutions and new analytic and reporting systems. Healthcare organizations will continue to invest in technologies that help "meet the patient where they are" and solutions that provide productivity and efficiency enhancements across the care continuum. Patients will continue to drive solutions with more convenient methods for accessing and sharing their health data and interacting with their healthcare providers.
We look forward to 2021 and all it holds - for us, our customers and the future of healthcare. We wish everyone the best in the New Year!