The global healthcare market is changing, along with healthcare costs and patient demographics. The overall healthcare spending is expected to rise at a CAGR of 5% between 2019 and 2023 and the market’s predicted value for 2020 is more than $2 trillion. Because of this growth and a number of emerging challenges, healthcare needs to leverage innovative solutions to meet the needs of patients. Let’s take a look at the major technological trends shaping the industry in 2020.
Areas of improvement in global healthcare
The healthcare industry needs to adapt to a growing, ageing population, an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, workforce shortages, and rising expectations of patients and workers. Financial challenges plague both public and private healthcare systems. To face these issues, healthcare providers are applying “smart”, cloud-based solutions in various areas.
Accuracy and effectiveness of treatment
Healthcare’s focus needs to shift from treatment to prevention, using early intervention to address the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. To do so, care providers are going to need more data, better automation, and a customer-centric approach that will allow them to build better treatment plans. Better data collection and processing can allow healthcare providers to introduce predictive care models and use a more proactive approach.
Real-time health monitoring, conducted remotely and continuously with the use of wearable devices, IoT sensors and smartphones, offers opportunities for gathering crucial data. Doing so could vastly improve reaction times to changes in patients’ condition, and allow for a shift towards preventive treatment.
Digital therapeutics, for example, uses software to prevent, manage, and treat medical disorders. This category consists of a broad group of products: from virtual reality simulations used in the treatment of anxiety or social disorders, to personalised mobile apps, which can offer assistance to diabetics who need to monitor their insulin intake.
New digital solutions introduce easier, faster, and more user-friendly ways of delivering healthcare services. They make new patient engagement strategies possible, improving interactions between patients and care providers through a patient-centric approach. Remote appointments and follow-ups are examples of such strategies.
Patients are becoming active decision-makers rather than passive participants. They expect more transparency, convenience, easier access to care services, and personalisation. To meet these demands, care providers might choose to focus on digital innovation, rather than on expanding their physical presence.
Currently, many care providers are shifting to digital models for handling patient data. These systems streamline communication and allow for instant information sharing thanks to electronic health records (EHRs). Improved diagnostics and a shorter response time are some of the benefits of EHRs.
In the future, digital patient data storage can evolve and bring additional opportunities to the market. Insights could be monetised and used to support areas such as population health management or value-based care.
Hospitals’ dependency on reliable supply chains has been made clearer than ever by the COVID-19 outbreak. By moving into the supply chain market, healthcare providers can gain access to automated supply solutions and same-day delivery, making sure that the necessary equipment, medicine and samples will always be available when needed. On-time deliveries guided by smart data could free up personnel and allow for more efficiency in providing healthcare services.
With new developments in robotics and drone technology, crucial medical supplies could be delivered faster and more reliably than with traditional means. The WakeMed hospital in North Carolina partnered with UPS and tested a drone delivery system for medical samples. This helped the hospital avoid delays, which were frequent with courier car delivery.
Top 2020 healthcare trends
1. Digital biomarkers
Sometimes called behavioural markers, digital biomarkers are health data points tracked with digital devices. We can continuously measure blood pressure via wristbands without inconveniencing patients, for example. Other metrics include heart rate, physical activity, sleep quality, and glucose levels. Thanks to the wide adoption of wearables and smartphones, new sources and types of information can be accessed, and used for assessing health and predicting health risks.
Biomarker data has a multitude of applications, including:
- Choosing the right treatment,
- Explaining a particular disease,
- Predicting drug response,
- Evaluating risks,
- Influencing fitness behaviours.
Importantly, much of the relevant data is already collected, or can be collected relatively easily with the introduction of custom software solutions. Digital biomarkers create an opportunity to use existing data sources and leverage them for valuable, actionable medical insights.
Leveraging public social media data (such as Instagram updates providing insight into a patient’s habits and lifestyle choices) on top of it all could help draw correlations between biomarker readings and health outcomes. This opens up the potential for creating deeply personalised patient experiences.
2. Digital therapeutics
What if digital solutions could directly improve a patient’s health?
Imagine an app that has clinically confirmed effectiveness, is prescribed by a doctor like a drug, and reimbursed by insurers like a drug. That’s a digital therapeutic.
Also known as digiceuticals, these apps go through efficacy tests conducted by regulators, such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, and receive clinical validation. They are prescribed alongside traditional treatment, not instead of it. Current examples of digital therapeutics at work include helping patients with chronic pain, asthma, or ADHD. Akili Interactive used a video game-like treatment combined with medication, and saw patients improve even without medication.
3. Remote clinical trials
Clinical trials can be expensive and difficult to organise. Participants can drop out, and recruiters are usually limited to certain geographical areas. But with the use of smartphones and wearables, behavioural data for clinical trials can be collected quickly and remotely. This solves researchers’ challenges and opens up new possibilities, such as engaging participants from various locations.
4. Patient engagement
Patients have a very real influence on their own health outcomes. Providers must work towards achieving greater patient engagement, for example by:
- Combining drug prescriptions with an assistant app,
- Using digital therapeutic programs that help patients undergo full treatment,
- Improving patient-doctor communication,
- Automating scheduling,
- Reminding patients about scheduled visits to ensure attendance, especially for follow-ups.
Healthcare needs to focus on convenience and ease of use. A remote doctor consultation is much easier for patients to attend, which means fewer cancelled appointments, better doctor-patient communication, and more control over the treatment plan for the doctor.
All this helps increase patients’ adherence to prescribed treatment. Additionally, patients gain access to specialists regardless of where they live, don’t need to shoulder the costs of commuting or taking leave from work for a doctor’s appointment, and don’t run the risk of contracting an infectious disease.
5. Value- or outcome-based healthcare
Departing from the traditional model, value-based healthcare service providers are compensated based on patient outcomes. It’s an initiative run by governments and insurers in an effort to look for better, fairer reimbursement models for healthcare. Paying for actual outcomes, rather than for therapies of uncertain effectiveness, can be a huge boon for patients. It creates significant pressure on pharmaceutical and medical service providers to find ways of collecting information about therapy effectiveness and to focus more on the patient.
Companies will have to show that their therapies or drugs really work. Doing so will require multiple metrics, large volumes of data, and efficient evaluation processes. Digital products designed to automate a large part of the work could be instrumental in going forward with this approach to healthcare.
COVID-19 isn’t the only thing changing the way healthcare systems operate in 2020.
We’re also seeing more chronic illnesses affecting the spread of healthcare resources, employee shortages and growing patient expectations. These challenges drive the introduction of innovative technological solutions, patient-centric care models, and more effective medical data collection. It’s clear that the healthcare market is changing quickly, faced with both challenges and opportunities – like access to troves of valuable data.