However, it’s an industry that’s faced numerous challenges in the past few years. With a huge spike in COVID-19 cases at the beginning of 2022—as well as threats of additional variants—healthcare is under increasing pressure to do more with fewer resources.
The pandemic has already changed how we work, socialize, and seek out medical care. Although COVID-19 has sickened millions and impacted everyone, the silver lining is that the challenges brought on by the pandemic have spurred innovation in healthcare. Out of necessity, many providers switched to telehealth, remote monitoring, and other digital innovations.
Unfortunately, many of these technologies still don’t go far enough to improve the patient experience. Moving forward, healthcare technologies need to become more accessible and innovative to truly revolutionize patient outcomes.
In spite of mounting challenges, there’s hope: healthcare is changing as we learn more about not only the human body, but how technology can serve mankind. In the future of healthcare, we’ll have better, faster, and simpler ways to connect providers, patients, manufacturers, and insurance companies.
It’s clear that the future of healthcare is digitized. The only question is what, exactly, healthcare will look like, and how long it will take us to reach this future state. Learn more about six upcoming trends in the future of healthcare, as well as four challenges to full adoption.
6 Trends Shaping the Future of Healthcare
The goal of digital transformation in any industry is to improve operations. In a life-or-death industry like healthcare, technological innovations have the power to improve the quality and longevity of human life, as well as minimize suffering.
Although technology is critical to the future of healthcare, it doesn’t mean that technology will replace doctors or nurses. In fact, these trends show that technology plays an assistive role so providers can give better care without overwhelming their own resources.
We predict that these six trends will significantly transform the future of healthcare—which, with any luck, isn’t too far off from becoming reality.
1. Greater Interoperability
There’s already been so much progress with interoperability over the past few decades. However, today’s healthcare providers still struggle with sharing data between disparate systems.
In the future of healthcare, vendors will work together to design smooth, seamless transitions between different solutions. This means:
- Data transfers and inputs will be standardized.
- There will be no need for patients or providers to re-enter their information.
- Providers can access real-time patient data in one place, including health history, medications, insurance, and financial information.
- Clinical studies can access a greater amount of verified data from real-world applications.
With smoother APIs or the widespread adoption of data sharing and information exchange standards like HL7 and FHIR connecting different applications, providers will be able to share data without the hiccups. By removing communication barriers, interoperability makes it possible for healthcare providers to give patients better, more data-centered treatment and streamline healthcare delivery.
2. IoT-connected Wearables
Manual data gathering is inefficient and not always reliable and accurate. Fortunately, in the future of healthcare, internet-connected wearable devices will reduce the need for some manual inputs from caregivers and patients.
Patients and providers already use wearable technology, which is any physical, internet-connected object with a sensor in it. Think of the smart fitness trackers that track your heart rate, blood pressure, and other data throughout the day without any intervention from you or a healthcare provider. But in its future state, healthcare will rely on wearables much more, especially for real-time patient insights.
With wearables, there will be less reliance on scanning or manual inputs from healthcare workers. 64% of doctors believe IoT devices like this can significantly reduce the burden on healthcare staff, too, which could be a valuable solution for addressing staffing shortages.
In practice, wearables will be able to track real-time information like:
- Heart rate
- Caloric data
- Sleep behaviors
- Oxygen levels
This is great for hospital settings, but it’s also valuable for home health and remote patient monitoring. With a device that constantly feeds health data to a provider, they can better route their resources to care for patients when they need help the most.
In fact, patients are already using devices like the Apple Watch to do ECGs at home, which can lessen the need for doctor’s visits.
On the physician side, some wearable devices are enabled with smart technology that delivers care without human input. For example, a wearable for a diabetic patient could deliver insulin automatically.
Wearables aren’t perfect right now, but in the future, they will become more refined. This will enable customized insights and personalized therapies that will be better tailored to patient needs. The right devices can even eliminate unnecessary intervention and reduce the burden on healthcare staff.
3. Cloud Connectivity
Offline data contained in filing cabinets is going to go the way of the dinosaur. The future of healthcare will rely on the efficient movement of large amounts of data through different systems, which paper just can’t accommodate.
The cloud makes data more accessible for both providers and patients. Although over 50% of health IT workloads are deployed in the cloud today, there are still some holdouts in the industry.
Aside from moving to the cloud, the future of healthcare will also rely on aggregating different cloud solutions into a cohesive digital platform. Standalone cloud applications make it hard to access, manage, and store data right now. But in the future, different cloud applications will be better at talking to each other, which will make healthcare organizations more efficient.
4. Artificial Intelligence
With only 2.9 doctors per 1,000 people in the U.S., AI (such as that found in Chatbots) is being used more and more to fill in the gaps to provide a better patient experience.
AI is going to be used primarily as a vehicle for interpreting data. Since more organizations will be connected in the cloud and collecting a massive volume of data, AI can help to make sense of this information, allowing organizations to derive actionable insights from their data.
With just a few questions and the power of predictive analytics, an AI assistant can route patients to the best treatment plan possible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, providers had great success using AI to see if patients needed hospitalization or if at-home therapies were more appropriate. That not only kept patients out of the hospital but also freed up beds for patients who needed hands-on treatment the most.
In the future, healthcare will also rely on AI to interpret scans. This technology is in its infancy, but early tests show that AI can correctly spot lung cancer on a scan 94% of the time—a rate that out-performed a team of experienced radiologists. Currently, 70% of lung cancers aren’t detected until the later stages, when the disease is harder to treat. Since early detection is key to survival rates, AI-supported scanning technology will save more lives.
5. 3D Printing
Today, it’s incredibly expensive to make personalized medical devices for patients. Fortunately, some companies are in the process of innovating with 3D printing. In the future, it will be more economical (and common) to use 3D printing to create things like:
- Skin grafts
- Casts and braces
Personalized medicine might still sound like a pipe dream, but 3D printing makes it economical to customize care at scale. In the future, the technology will be more ubiquitous and even become a common practice for patient care. This will not only cut down on costs but also significantly speed up the time required to personalize patient care.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, just 43% of health centers had telehealth capabilities. But during the pandemic, 95% of health centers used telehealth. The pandemic clearly forced providers to innovate, but will this trend continue in the future?
It’s too early to know for sure, but telehealth is likely to become a booming micro-industry within healthcare. Telehealth is likely to continue growing because:
- Patients expect it: Consumers can buy just about anything curbside now. After using telehealth for two years, they’ve come to appreciate the convenience of remote care, especially for ailments that don’t require a physical exam. In fact, according to a survey conducted by CB Insights, 87% of patients who tried telehealth services by the second quarter of 2021 were satisfied with their experience. While some temporary rules allowing telehealth services during the pandemic are ending in many areas, others have been made permanent. But providers and patients are concerned about losing the benefits of telehealth services, and leaders are beginning to work out solutions for licensing, payment issues, and other concerns to make telehealth a permanent reality.
- It simplifies chronic disease management: Patients with chronic illness, like cancer or diabetes, need ongoing care. But it isn’t always necessary for them to go to the trouble of an in-office visit. Thanks to telehealth, providers can check in on patients without the hassle of an in-person visit. This is a great way to increase adherence and better manage patient symptoms.
- The technology is improving: As more providers offer telehealth options, the technology is only going to become more intuitive and helpful. According to McKinsey, telehealth models are evolving to encompass more than the typical urgent care telehealth services. Hybrid virtual and in-person care models are also becoming more common.
- It improves access to care: Without telehealth, patients in rural areas have to drive for hours to receive care. Now, all they need is an internet connection to speak with a medical provider. Telehealth is also playing an integral role in reducing health inequities and improving access for people of color.
- Telehealth is more cost-effective: Remote doctor’s visits are more affordable for both patients and providers. The patient doesn’t have to worry about taking time off of work or paying for transportation, and the provider might not need to maintain a physical office at all.
In its current state, telehealth is common, but it’s still glitchy. It also still requires internet access and smart devices, which aren’t always accessible. Both federal and state laws are still trying to catch up with telehealth, so it’s likely that providers will need to change their practices to fit with upcoming legislation.
Although the technology isn’t perfect today, in the future of healthcare, telehealth will become the standard for non-life-threatening treatment.
Challenges in the Future of Healthcare
As promising as the future of healthcare is, the industry will need to overcome four issues to innovate, reduce costs, and improve the patient experience.
Technology is so helpful for innovating in healthcare, but it isn’t always accessible for patients. For example, if telehealth requires a patient to download an app, that means that they need a smartphone and Wi-Fi. However, 19 million Americans, or about 6% of the population, don’t have Wi-Fi at home. In rural areas, the percentage of people who lack access to Wi-Fi is even higher—nearly 25%, or 14.5 million people—and in tribal areas, nearly one-third of the population lacks access to fixed broadband services with adequate speeds.
Local governments need to provide the infrastructure necessary for all patients to enjoy innovations in healthcare. Until then, the healthcare industry needs to remember that not every patient can access their new and innovative systems.
5G networks are rolling out across the U.S. and around the world, but they aren’t ubiquitous. In fact, many hospitals still have dead zones and inconsistent Wi-Fi coverage. That makes it nearly impossible for providers to use the digital tools they worked so hard to implement.
To achieve a brighter future for healthcare, it’s necessary for hospitals and other providers to prioritize connectivity. This also means offering free, high-speed Wi-Fi to all of the patients and guests on the premises, too.
No matter how you slice it, it costs money to make changes in any business. Innovations like AI, telehealth, and wearables require an upfront investment that some healthcare organizations aren’t willing to pay—yet.
This is a cultural issue that providers need to address because, in the long run, digitization actually reduces costs. For example, administrative costs make up 34% of all healthcare expenses, so providers could significantly reduce their costs by automating administrative tasks. Healthcare executives and other decision-makers typically want to ensure that investments will produce an acceptable ROI before implementing the latest technology.
More data is generally a good thing, but there are risks that come with digitization. Cyber attacks in healthcare are always a risk, but they’re projected to increase in frequency. It’s such a big problem that the cost of cyber insurance policy premiums are rising by 20%.
Any time an organization innovates with technology, security needs to be a top priority. This not only protects your intellectual property, but it’s also a requirement to protect your patient data and maintain regulatory compliance.
To overcome this challenge, healthcare organizations should have either an internal IT security team or a cybersecurity vendor. Even if you follow HIPAA security requirements, these usually don’t go far enough to stop breaches. By going beyond the minimum requirements, healthcare providers can lock down their data and avoid the headaches of breaches.
Fueling the Future of Healthcare
At its core, the future of healthcare is going to focus even more on the people who matter most: the patients. By breaking down the barriers between patients, providers, and insurance companies, and building resilience in healthcare supply chains, we can significantly reduce the costs and errors that are rampant in healthcare today.
We predict that these six trends will have a tremendous impact on the healthcare industry, but technology is improving every day. As long as providers have an innovative mindset, it’s possible to solve systemic issues. This will make it possible to move beyond reactivity and create a system that’s proactive and patient-focused.