2020 has altered the way that healthcare is conducted in the U.S. and around the world – clinician roles have shifted, where care is administered has evolved, and routine appointments have been delayed for safety reasons. Healthcare experts share six predictions for what healthcare will look like in 2021.
HealthDecember 21, 2020

To the future and beyond – looking ahead to healthcare in 2021 with hope

2020 has altered the way that healthcare is conducted in the U.S. and around the world – clinician roles have shifted, where care is administered has evolved, and routine appointments have been delayed for safety reasons. Healthcare experts share six predictions for what healthcare will look like in 2021.

Everyone has experienced a rough 2020, especially the healthcare industry where everyone from administrators to clinicians to support staff have had to alter how they do their jobs. Given the challenges that have been faced, what can we expect from 2021? There is quite a bit of room for optimism given that one COVID-19 vaccine is already being administered, and another one should be approved shortly. Additionally, the pivots that the healthcare industry has had to make have exposed pain points – such as an acute lack of interoperability – as well as bright spots like virtual care adoption and the expanded use case of surveillance technology.

Below are six predictions for 2021 from experts and clinicians alike to help everyone prepare for a better year.

Data use and artificial intelligence will be more important as ever

Healthcare data – everything from electronic medical records to socio-economic data became even more critical in 2020. Data interoperability and artificial intelligence will be main focuses in 2021 and beyond, according to John Langton, PhD, Director of Applied Data Science, Wolters Kluwer, Health and Karen Kobelski, Vice President and General Manager of Clinical Surveillance Compliance & Data Solutions, Wolters Kluwer, Health.

“While normally slow to adopt technology, many health systems have transitioned to figuring out the patterns in COVID-19 and better predicting respiratory and organ failures associated with the virus. And since COVID-19 puts people at risk of developing sepsis, they have also needed to flag those most at risk. It was trial-by-fire with many fast-tracking tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI). This health crisis provides a sense of what may be possible to predict and prevent a range of chronic health concerns. This technology can then save lives and dollars for conditions that have proved resistant to prevention,” says Kobelski. “Achieving those savings depends on: 1) refining the use of AI for clinical surveillance; 2) expanding access to everything from electronic health records (EHR) to information that lives outside of direct clinical settings, from the omics through the social determinants of health; and 3) distinguishing AI hype from solutions that deliver proven, actionable insights for specific clinical concerns.”

“Early areas of AI focused on some logical, low hanging fruit like image analysis. The advancements there have been incredible. But I think we’ve barely scratched the surface on where AI can be applied. I think the place where AI will have the biggest impact in healthcare technology is in making relevant information available to clinicians sooner in the care of a patient. This translates into predicting the onset of various medical conditions so that clinicians can order tests to verify those predictions and then act. So much about healthcare outcomes comes down to catching conditions in time to do something about them. The timeliness of evidence-based information used to make patient care decisions is paramount. This is an area where there is a tremendous amount of hype right now and a lot of it is unfortunately nonsense,” explains Langton.

Virtual care adoption will stick

While the crushing realities of COVID-19 have accelerated the adoption of virtual care, the journey to models that include telehealth, remote patient monitoring, virtual specialty consults, and other digital patient interactions were already well under way.

In 2021 and beyond, virtual care will most likely focus on addressing populations that are hard to reach, such as people of color, people in rural communities, and older populations who tend to be among those most affected by chronic medical conditions — a situation made worse by obstacles to care that in-person visits present. For example, people with fewer resources tend to find it more difficult to get time off from work for a doctor visit. Rural and poor urban communities often experience clinician shortages, travel long distances to be seen, and they find transportation to such visits a challenge.

Virtual care and patient engagement strategies can respond to those challenges while also addressing health disparities and risk factors specific to those populations — especially when such strategies combine more frequent patient contact with understanding of the social determinants of health and other health-related data outside the traditional care paradigms.
Jason Burum, Vice President, Patient Engagement, Clinical Effectiveness Wolters Kluwer, Health

“Access to a broader group of clinicians and specialists is also available, which expands clinical care in ways that may have been limited before. The use of virtual care to reduce health inequities by scaling support will require that health systems and their workforces quickly learn lessons from emerging best practices and adopt those to reach much larger populations.”

Pharmacists and nurses will see their roles evolve

The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous stress on the healthcare system and workforce. Healthcare leaders, clinicians, and educators have responded by developing innovative workforce solutions and education strategies to keep pace with changing care-delivery models. The crisis has, however, served to merely accelerate changes that had begun prior to the pandemic, and those changes are a long way from over. The endgame will be the reinvention of the workforce so that it revitalizes the entire healthcare system and has the strength and adaptability needed to meet existing — and yet unforeseen — challenges.

Palliative care should be part of the treatment plan from the time of diagnosis of an illness through end of life and hospice care.
Karen Mulvihill DNP, APRN, ACHPN, FNP, ACHPB

For nurses, tiered nursing teams, for example, became more common in order to train less-experienced registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and unlicensed assistive personnel to help care for critically ill patients. This approach was successful and will likely be used after the pandemic to help scale teams. “In a healthcare system, the most valuable commodity is the workforce that cares for patients. Patient outcomes are optimized if healthcare workers are valued, have adequate resources, are properly trained, and feel safe in the care environment,” said Anne Dabrow Woods DNP, CRNP, FAAN, Chief Nurse of Health Learning, Research & Practice, Wolters Kluwer.

Evidence of the moment will be critical

Clinicians make decisions for care and management every day, making it imperative that they have timely access to guidance that synthesizes the best available evidence augmented by the wisdom of clinical experts and other relevant information sources that should have a bearing on clinical decision making. At the beginning of this pandemic, no such guidance was available. This has shifted the paradigm to one where it is the best evidence of the moment that matters.

“COVID-19 expanded the global need for reliable information while shrinking the timeline for creating it due to unparalleled urgency. In recognition of this need, many healthcare publications have also retooled editorial processes to speed emerging information6 to clinicians to guide them through care decisions and connect the dots between what clinicians see and what emerging research shows. Making the best evidence available in a format that can be used by frontline healthcare providers holds enormous potential for improving post-pandemic care and saving lives — but only if done right,” said Denise Basow, MD, President & CEO of Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer, Health.

With new vaccines and the long-term effects of COVID-19 becoming more apparent, the need for the best evidence available will become more crucial as millions across the global recover from COVID-19.

The culmination of these new and positive developments in healthcare, the view for 2021 is looking up.

For more insights into the above topics, please visit our Five Forces for the Future.

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