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.