'The health system of the future will be consumer-centric, wellness-oriented and digitally connected'

Healthcare IT News speaks to experts about the top predictions that will define healthcare in 2021.
By Sara Mageit
07:05 AM

In the year 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic left many businesses in an unprecedented state of uncertainty. Healthcare companies across the care continuum had to face new challenges, pushing them to rapidly learn, adapt and transform the way they deliver healthcare. As a result, the concept of “anytime anywhere care” has become mainstream, changing the rate at which we access healthcare forever. Vendors will consequently need to redefine their strategies to ensure they are ready for 2021 and this new breed of consumer demand. 

Opportunities to innovate

While the pandemic has presented many adversities, it has also introduced growth opportunities to enhance companies' performance, leading to the acceleration of new customer engagement models and innovative methods to serve customer needs.

Reenita Das, transformational health partner and senior vice president at Frost & Sullivan said: "The health system of the future will be consumer-centric, wellness-oriented, care everywhere, and digitally connected.

"Healthcare stakeholders will need to upgrade and adopt patient engagement and more virtual, innovative health management tools and techniques to support patients at home."

Artificial intelligence has also been praised for being a key facilitating technology during the pandemic. Experts predict that we will see increased adoption and implementation across the healthcare spectrum, from drug discovery to precise preventive care, to workflow management.

“Healthcare will witness virtualisation to a large extent. Novel business models will emerge to support this paradigm shift and the emergence of this new care delivery ecosystem. Interoperability and data security will be table stakes,” added Chandni Mathur, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Telehealth on the rise

Online doctor visits will top 400 million globally next year, according to Deloitte’s new 2021 predictions. This is in stark contrast to pre-pandemic levels, where 0.1% of all US Medicare primary care visits were via telehealth services.

According to Linda Comp-Noto, divisional president of healthcare at Teleperformance, virtual healthcare services are set to shift from a pandemic-induced necessity to a new normal of patient care.

Comp-Noto said: “Long after the pandemic has ended, telehealth will continue to rise as the foundation of a robust healthcare strategy, fit for the new normal. Future trends in the healthcare space will revolve around continued patient centricity and consumer-driven health plans.

"Technology is set to play an even bigger role in patient engagement, through the development of healthcare portals, telehealth applications, and wearable devices.”

Digital empowering primary care

The impending global vaccine roll-out will also influence many changes in primary care. According to Wais Shaifta, CEO of video-consultation platform, Push Doctor, in the long-term, it will significantly decrease the rates of coronavirus, enabling primary care providers to begin working through the backlog of patients in need of care. Although this is positive, in the short-term, it will place additional pressure on the already stretched NHS.

Shaifta told Healthcare IT News: “To meet the target set by NHS England of administering 975 vaccines a week, GPs in practices will need to focus almost exclusively on this task, causing further disruption to patients with health concerns unrelated to the pandemic.

"We believe that digital health solutions will play a central role in supporting primary care during this critical time by providing thousands of remote GP appointments to such patients who would otherwise go unseen.

"At this time more than ever we expect to see the power of digital and face-to-face care when deployed in tandem.”

Security breaches become a greater issue 

Security breaches will become a greater issue as working from home continues and healthcare becomes the most targeted sector globally for phishing and malware attacks, says Brian Bogie, director healthcare vertical at financial computer software company, Sage Intacct.  

Bogie told Healthcare IT News: "While employees and their information were once safely behind the office firewall, and out of view of their family members, patients' confidential health information is at a greater risk because attackers now have access to makeshift at-home workstations.

"As we enter the new year, we will see more companies implement new processes and procedures to help keep patient’s health information secure, including audit trails that show who accessed what information and when."

Mental health technology 

The pandemic has had many implications for our mental health this year. According to the Samaritans, in a survey of over 70,000 adults in the UK, over 1 in 10 reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting themselves during the first week of lockdown. This year's World Mental Health Day marked a different kind of year for mental health therapy, where new technology started to take precedence over face-to-face therapy.

Experts have predicted that this trend will remain strong next year. Medical device company Flow recently reported a 247% increase in sales of its at-home, brain stimulation headset treatment for depression since the pandemic, indicating a promising level of acceptance towards mental health technology.

Health inequities here to stay

Although large strides in health innovation are being made, in order to benefit globally, health inequalities will remain an extremely important topic for health care providers over the next few years.

Shaifta explains: “Regrettably, inequality still exists across our health system and the pandemic has unfortunately exacerbated many of the long-standing disparities between different groups.

"We now see that some of those with the greatest need for care have the least amount available to them, bringing the need to tackle health inequalities into sharp focus."

Push Doctor is currently trialling bookable, sound-proofed video pods with computers in community spaces and deprived areas. These allow the patient to have a private digital consultation, with staff on hand to give practical advice on using the technology.

“Moving forward, we expect to see our industry continue to work together to prevent people in the UK experiencing differences in healthcare based on factors often outside their control and enable everyone to share in the benefits of digital,” concludes Shaifta.

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