The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a game changer for most businesses, across industries. Among the numerous things that emerged as a consequence, was the creation of a cascading effect in the implementation of digital transformation in healthcare. While healthcare technology was already being nudged towards increased innovation and advancements in virtual medicine, the pandemic really put things in overdrive. COVID-19 created a situation where receiving care virtually, outside of the hospital or doctor’s office, was no longer a luxury but a necessity. This led to a boom in the fledgling industry and resulted in a number of foundational shifts in digital health. That acceleration has continued into 2021 and is expected to comfortably increase this year, creating a sea of change in healthcare delivery and operations.
Research by Frost & Sullivan expects global healthcare industry revenues to exceed $2.6 trillion by 2025, with a majority of growth driven by artificial intelligence and telehealth. Perhaps the most important outcome of the pandemic has been its impact as a great equalizer. The healthcare market now favors “digital-first” companies, i.e., those who efficiently deliver healthcare as online experiences, especially for ambulatory and low-acuity care.
Telehealth Technology is Rapidly Growing to Match Patient and Caregiver Needs
Right after the pandemic struck, almost every health organization had to promptly implement and scale their telehealth programs. Due to time or budget constraints, or both in many cases, organizations had to adopt a cookie-cutter approach using sub-optimal technology tools threaded together in a loosely integrated architecture. This has counterproductively resulted in increased manual work with siloed applications not talking to each other seamlessly.
Having a chance to finally breathe, Healthcare leaders are now looking beyond COVID-19 to redefine their telehealth programs for the longer term. Contactless and low-contact encounters are set to become a standard feature of healthcare, meaning modernizing and streamlining patient care takes top priority. Telehealth solutions are evolving too and are able to provide more out-of-the-box integration to backend Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems. The platforms will also continue to improve their functionalities to meet patients’ new and emerging needs based on types of illness, care, geographical location, as well as the participation of multiple family members and real-time language translators during telehealth visits.
This rapid growth of telehealth without adequate supplementary training and resources has also resulted in an unexpected strain on clinicians and caregivers. Taking this into account, telehealth solution providers will now have to design their platforms keeping caregiver needs in mind as well, along with those of patients. Innovation and international collaboration in healthcare for better clinician and patient access, and on-demand healthcare, will also become easier with telehealth solutions. Clinicians will be able to address patients from across the globe and consult other physicians from different countries leading to far more efficient and effective collaboration and research; as was demonstrated recently in the process of finding the COVID-19 vaccine.
Big Data and Predictive Healthcare Will Play a Bigger Role and Redefine Overall Patient Care Delivery
The union between big data and healthcare through telehealth is already proving to be invaluable for healthcare organizations as they work through the pandemic and the new world it has created. Having access to relevant, real-time data through telehealth is extremely helpful as it enables proactive care and a more accurate view of the patients’ health with consolidated information.
One of the key benefits of big data enabled telehealth solutions is the convenience created by integrating with healthcare apps to track and monitor patient health in real-time. It also allows clinicians to be more cognizant of their patients’ day-to-day progress. Risk modeling and stratification will continue to evolve, allowing clinicians to collaborate with AI and Big Data to make more accurate predictions of where a patient’s health is heading.
Healthcare will become more proactive as it moves toward being more predictive. Connected devices, both at the consumer level and clinical grade, will become more commonplace, helping physicians get real-time data from patients to better monitor their health status and make interventions when necessary.
More EHR Integrations as Cybersecurity Becomes Vital to Care Enablement
As a consequence of increased tech use and data sharing, along with the vaccination effort and distributed work environment, cybersecurity will become a front and center focus area for healthcare companies in 2021.
Cybercriminals are eagerly taking advantage of the attempts to create a COVID-19 vaccine. In a campaign that surfaced this past summer, state-backed Russian hackers launched targeted attacks against pharmaceutical companies, healthcare facilities, and research centers involved in vaccine development. With the announcement of certain COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval in the US and elsewhere, attackers are likely to exploit the public’s desire for more details about these vaccines.
A cyber attack on a healthcare provider’s EMR/EHR system, containing the health data of every patient, could be disastrous. Critical patient data including information on every visit summary, prescription written, procedure performed and so much more could all be wiped or stolen in one go, and all the benefits that could have been derived from that data would be gone forever.
According to CB Insights, the fourth quarter of 2020 was the second-biggest funding quarter to health cybersecurity companies in the past three years. As an aftereffect, reported data breaches in the U.S. healthcare sector increased by almost three times last year, according to HHS data, with malicious actors targeting the industry as it struggled to respond to COVID-19. These worries carry into 2021, especially as the country races to address and fix the vulnerability. Increased investment in cybersecurity is expected as HHS regulations are nudging the industry towards more interoperability with all heightened safeguards.
Digitizing Healthcare is only set to accelerate in 2021 as healthcare gets more accessible and affordable to all. ServiceNow Healthcare enables us to rethink outdated infrastructure to deliver better healthcare experiences and outcomes, without compromising on security or compliance. When done right, digital health and transformation has the potential to create additional revenues and reduce overall costs all while improving patient experience.
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