No industry today is immune from the revolutionary impact of technology. But the healthcare sector is particularly primed to undergo significant change driven by technology in 2020. Evolving patient expectations, outside disruptors and the potential for consistent cost savings have put healthcare and technology on a path of convergence like never before.
All corners of the healthcare industry, from delivery and payment to access and analytics, are increasingly relying on technology. What's more, the biggest technology companies in the world are investing in the space in a big way. This time last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook declared the company's largest contribution to the world will be about health. The tech company took concrete steps to back up that claim with new forays into medical research and mobile "Health Records" through its iPhone and Apple Watch devices. With the launch of Amazon Care, the online retail giant has taken aim at the healthcare space as well.
Tech-driven advancements are coming from inside the industry too as players throughout the space look to technology to create savings and better patient outcomes – from more proactive and effective preventive care to more efficient billing processes. As we move into the first quarter of this year, the connection between healthcare and technology will only grow. Organizations that can successfully recognize the most significant and likely developments will be better positioned to take meaningful action and be best positioned for success in an increasingly tech-driven healthcare space.
Here are four significant healthcare technology trends we're watching.
1. Telemedicine Gains Even Greater Momentum
Technology is already driving patients, providers, insurers and regulators to rethink what constitutes a healthcare visit. Telehealth – the distribution of health-related services through electronic information and telecommunication technologies – is one area where several advancing technologies are coalescing, including videoconferencing, remote monitoring, and e-consults, all amped up by increased internet speeds and remote connectivity. Telemedicine today is used for services including patient education, diagnostic testing, rehabilitation, home care, chronic condition management and initial consultations and connecting patients in rural communities to healthcare services. There is little doubt applications will increase in 2020. The use of telemedicine by hospitals has more than doubled since 2010, according to the American Hospital Association, and is only gaining more widespread acceptance.
As the telehealth trend expands in scope, look for dermatology to be a continued focus for specialist services in the virtual care space. Telehealth services have had success to date in replacing the initial in-person consultation with a patient-physician interaction via cell phone or laptop. These e-consults saved time and money for patients, and there's an opportunity for greater savings for providers through value-driven reimbursements and reduced administrative fees. Critically, research has found these virtual visits have not diminished outcomes. More and more providers will look to replicate the early successes in dermatology and other telemedicine services in the year to come.
At the same time, the telemedicine trend is positioned to significantly impact rural care, where demographics, economics and access are significant barriers to effective care. As lawmakers debate how to reform healthcare and bring coverage and access to more people, telemedicine is sure to be part of the solution for individuals in rural areas.
Patients are eager for telemedicine tools, and we've seen insurers developing effective ways to price and pay for these tools. But still, the most significant barrier to greater acceptance has come from physicians. They often face the greatest startup costs with these services and are concerned about liability. What's more, many simply prefer traditional face-to-face meetings and believe they are more effective. We may see this reluctance easing in 2020 and beyond as more doctors and healthcare professionals warm up to the idea of remote patient interactions, but it may take some time.
2. House Calls Make a Comeback
While technology is creating a rise in remote patient-doctor communications, it's also enabling more in-home visits. Technology similar to what powers ride-sharing and food delivery is enabling mobile urgent care units to optimize schedules and routes to see patients at home. In many cases, these patients are too old or sick to visit a hospital. In other cases, they have limited transportation options or they simply refuse to leave their homes. These programs are likely to become more popular and effective in the year to come.
3. Big Data has a Big Impact on Population Health – and Everything Else
Every industry is grappling with the massive amounts of data being generated by connected devices and the Internet of Things. Nowhere is that data expanding more quickly than in healthcare. In fact, the volume of healthcare data is expected to grow faster than data in manufacturing, financial services or media industries. Providers, insurers and even patients have more information than ever.
The potential uses for all this data is nearly limitless. Population health is one area to watch this year. As providers and payors look to improve outcomes and reduce costs, uncovering actionable insights about their patient populations across the care continuum will be key.
The only thing limiting the impact of this data is the industry's collective ability to analyze and act on it. Watch for investment in IT structure and data analytics, combined with a greater willingness to securely share key data, to fuel an exponential growth in the impact of big data in 2020.
4. Cyberattacks Remain a Constant Threat
Amid all the promise and potential of technology in the healthcare industry is the constant threat of cyberattacks. These attacks on patient privacy and provider infrastructure are already having a big impact on the industry. Ransomware alone cost the healthcare industry an estimated $25 billion last year. Hackers will continue to attempt to steal medical information and other personal data, health insurance information and financial information to commit identity theft for financial gain, such as through filing fraudulent tax returns, or hold that data for ransom. Often, these attacks rely on phishing emails or other tactics to deploy malware or to obtain login credentials that enable the hacker to access a network. Better IT security including additional technical tools and quality training for everyone with access to data will now be more critical than ever.
These challenges, and the actual number of attacks and compromised medical records, will continue to increase in the year to come. As more devices come online and IT systems become more complex, there are more points of entry involving an increasing number of vendors. Healthcare organizations should look to robust vetting processes for vendor security as a good first line of defense.
As 2020 unfolds, technology will present great potential in the healthcare industry, along with a considerable amount of risk driven by cybersecurity issues. For individual organizations, navigating the impact of these trends means staying ahead of new developments and relying on the right partners to plan and proactively anticipate what these trends will mean for patients and the bottom line.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.