CIOs should strategise future directions and readiness of technology forces and innovations
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses including healthcare delivery across the globe. It has worked as a catalyst in adoption of digital technologies in Healthcare and associated industries. We have seen this with healthcare providers, patients, medical devices, drug discovery, insurance, and companies in the medical supply chain.
In 2020, we experienced a surge in the digital technology adoption among healthcare providers. We expect that this pace of digital technology adoption will continue to increase this year. Digital technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, AR/VR, blockchain, telemedicine, telehealth, robotics, 3D printing, nanotechnology and many more are being used to develop solutions that are improving patient care and patient experience, as well as optimising costs. Given this trend, CIOs would be wise to strategise future directions and prepare their organisation for these technology forces and innovations.
This accelerated digital transformation is set to continue among healthcare entities. We expect the following 7 technology trends to play a major role in 2021, and beyond.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Healthcare entities have used artificial intelligence and machine learning in hospital administration and operations for years. But in 2020, AI was leveraged in developing predictive models to contain the spread of COVID-19 by identifying hotspots and determining vaccine distribution plans.
With the evolution in technology – AI combined with large data – machine learning will continue to transform clinical research and help extract information from medical images, add value to care, improve treatment protocols and much more, and do this in ways we have not experienced before. For example, natural language processing (NLP), a branch of AI, would help in virtual care, i.e., touch-free healthcare interactions. Also, advances in AI would help in making early and accurate diagnoses of diseases, providing personalised dosage, reducing the costs of treatment, generating automated reminders, facilitating robotic and remote surgeries, containing epidemics and pandemics, and much more.
Healthcare Analytics for Prediction and Prevention
Adoption of digital technologies in the Healthcare and Life Sciences industry has led to a huge amount of electronic data being generated every day. Using ever-improving technologies, it has not only become easier to collect such data but also to analyse the data in ways that can provide us with critical actionable insights and support decision making.
Healthcare analytics can help in the prediction and prevention of a problem, and the prescription of a solution. The most widespread application of big data in healthcare is in electronic health record (EHR) systems. EHR includes demographics, medical history, allergies and the laboratory test results of a patient. Analytics on this data can help in pin-pointing a patient who may be at high risk during a crisis due to chronic illness, giving physicians an opportunity to provide a customised care solution that will reduce emergency visits. This solution can help in sending warnings, reminders, tracking prescriptions, etc.
Some of the areas where healthcare data analytics is being applied are drug discoveries, clinical trials, medical imaging, enhanced patient engagement, fraud reduction, real-time alerting, improved supply chain, smart staffing, risk and disease management, telemedicine, etc. As we evolve with technology and our understanding of data, medical businesses can improve current techniques and find new areas of application.
Augmented and Virtual Reality Integrated Care
Augmented reality (AR) integrates digital information into the real world in real time whereas virtual reality (VR) creates an entirely new world. AR & VR are some of the most promising digital technologies in the healthcare space and are becoming more accessible and affordable.
The principal use of this technology is in the field of medical education and staff training. AR and VR can assist surgeons in precision surgeries and remote surgeries. It can help patients in describing their symptoms better and in their pain management, and it can play a vital role in medical imaging and MRI evaluation too. Pharmaceutical companies can use it to describe their drug. Though this technology is in its early stages, it has the potential to drastically reshape the medical industry.
Telehealth & Telemedicine as New Healthcare Reality
Before the pandemic, patients would visit their healthcare provider in person; now, they are using telehealth solutions to consult their physician. The pandemic has also forced CMS and other payers to relax telehealth related regulations to help providers continue to offer virtual care to patients with a chronic illness and those who have COVID-19 but do not require hospitalisation.
Telemedicine is making healthcare available to everyone. Patient portals, remote care, mobile health applications and wearable devices have empowered patients to monitor their health and care.
Increased and timely patient engagement has enabled many healthcare providers to be in touch with their patients regarding previously neglected points, leading to a higher ROI. Healthcare providers will continue to incorporate virtual care as part of their long-term strategy.
The Healthcare industry, which has historically lagged behind its contemporaries when it comes to adopting new technologies, is now leading on cloud adoption. Healthcare providers are leveraging this technology not only to store data but also to optimise workflows, gain efficiencies, and lower the cost of healthcare delivery and operation, while enabling the delivery of high-quality, personalised care. Patients also benefit by gaining access to their health data and plans, which contributes to improved interaction between providers and patients.
The advanced computing power of the cloud is being used to process and analyse healthcare data (both structured and unstructured), using data analytics and AI/ML-based algorithms. The results are paving the way for a more personalised health plan for patients.
Data security is still seen as the biggest barrier to cloud adoption in the healthcare sector. Healthcare providers are also required to comply with data regulation laws and regulations like HIPPA, HITECH and GDPR before moving data to the cloud.
Blockchain's ability to keep an incorruptible, decentralised and transparent log of all patient data makes it the perfect technology for security applications. Blockchain technology is helping in managing EHR, protecting patient health data, managing genomic data, preventing counterfeit drugs, tracking clinical trials and medical credentials, enhancing security, improving collection of payments, and reducing claim denials. Blockchain is becoming a valuable tool for Healthcare and Life Sciences companies. Though the application of blockchain in the healthcare sector is still in its early stages, with widespread use and use cases, blockchain technology could transform the healthcare sector.
In today’s electronic world, protecting information from hackers and fraudsters is critical. Due to the nature of data stored in EHR systems, decision support systems, clinical laboratories, radiology information systems and many other systems, hackers are targeting healthcare providers to steal the data to sell on the dark web and to bring down systems using ransomware attacks. These data breaches are costing the healthcare industry billions every year.
One challenge for cybersecurity in healthcare is that many health entities still use legacy systems no longer supported by the vendor, thus exposing them to security vulnerabilities. It is the need of the hour that healthcare organisations invest in strong cybersecurity technologies and secure data stores, and that they establish a security culture.