Healthcare trends that will rock medical care in the 2020s

Efforts to improve patient care and capitalize on vast stores of medical information will lean heavily on healthcare IT.

Healthcare trends that will rock medical care in the 2020s

As healthcare enters the 2020s, a whole new range of technologies is emerging. In the last few years, technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality devices, and precision medicine have moved from experimental to capabilities that hold hope for improving medical care in the new decade. Meanwhile, HIT likely will be called upon to help the industry as it inexorably moves to value-based care. In light of the new decade, the staff of Health Data Management identified these 10 trends that will make the biggest difference in medical care over the next 10 years. Here are our best guesses on these trends, and how healthcare IT will help advance these efforts.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is an emerging technology area with perhaps the greatest potential to positively impact medicine in the next decade. According to one estimate, the AI in healthcare market is expected to grow worldwide with an estimated compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent—reaching more than $127 billion by 2028.

The low-hanging fruit for the application of AI in medicine has so far been in the areas of radiology and digital pathology. In fact, Robert Wachter, MD, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, predicts that machine learning will displace much of the work of radiologists and pathologists.

Over the next 10 years, AI will be increasingly integrated into routine clinical practice, significantly impacting the delivery of healthcare, Wachter contends. He points out that AI algorithms and machine learning are being developed today to help clinicians quickly sift through big data to diagnose diseases early and determine the best treatment options for patients that will improve health outcomes. Making this computing process possible is the widespread digitization of healthcare data.

Digital health tools

In the coming decade, providers will increasingly implement digital health tools, enabling new methods and modalities to improve healthcare.

With the industry moving to value-based care, clinicians are looking to integrate these technologies into medical practices to better understand and manage chronic diseases outside of the clinical environment.

Specifically, the implementation of remote patient monitoring by leveraging connected and wearable devices, sensors and trackers will be the platforms that gather patient-generated health data to facilitate disease management and patient engagement.

John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and head of its Health Technology Exploration Center, contends that patient-generated data from these digital tools will personalize care in a way that was not previously possible.

Imaging technology

The promise of radiological imaging in healthcare in the next decade won’t be curtailed by technological limitations—resolutions are increasing, and viewing options will expand to include three-dimensional viewing, as well as augmented and virtual reality.

The restraints may come in the form of increased oversight of the use of imaging procedures, as well as the impact that the rising prevalence of value-based care contracts will have on imaging studies.

Annual spending on medical imaging grew dramatically in the last decade—utilization of these exams in the U.S. was the second highest in the world in 2016, according to research published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the next decade, clinicians will be prodded to pay attention to the appropriateness of diagnostic studies. A key initiative in this arena is Medicare’s Appropriate Use Criteria Program, which launches January 1.

Data sharing and interoperability

Significant improvements in the exchange of patients’ clinical information should become a reality in the 2020s.

A variety of factors will improve information exchange in the new decade. High among those are the maturation of HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard, which in 2019 reached the normative stage. The widespread adoption of FHIR is expected to facilitate information exchange throughout the healthcare universe.

App developers, health IT vendors and providers have widely embraced FHIR—which includes the RESTful application programming interface—to help solve the interoperability challenges confronting the healthcare industry as it seeks to increase access to electronic health records and data sharing, says Chuck Jaffe, MD, CEO of HL7, which has coordinated development of emerging standard.

Last year, the adoption of FHIR for sharing electronic medical information reached critical mass, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health It. And, ONC has proposed a rule that seeks to make FHIR a requirement for developers participating in the ONC HIT Certification Program.

Patient communication and engagement

Patients and clinicians generally want more communication and interaction, and technology is expected to help enable that in the 2020s.

Previous generations of physicians tended to want to place limits on enabling direct communications with patients. But now, familiarity with technology—and its potential to increase productivity and effectiveness—have increased provider willingness. And other factors are providing impetus as well.

The uptick in communications isn’t waiting for the new decade—it’s already underway. A study in January 2018 examined how patients and healthcare providers communicating outside of the office was changing. The study, led by Joy Lee of the Regenstrief Institute’s Center for Health Services Research, considered how patients and providers felt about email, cell phone and text interactions.

Payer evolution

Healthcare payers will continue to see their roles in the health ecosystem change and shift in the new decade. That presages a whole different range of information technology needs that are vastly different from the systems they’ve used for years.

Value-based care is the impetus for the change. Payers are feeling the pressure to change their reimbursement criteria from paying providers for the quantity of services they provide to instead measuring value as the basis for payment.

Initiatives that are using value incentives have gained traction and shown results. For example, accountable care organizations participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program have generated $1 billion in savings since their inception—leading the way in value-based care, according to a report from Innovaccer, a data activation platform company.

Payers, which have concentrated on building and maintaining systems to manage claims submissions and payments, now will need to implement IT systems that will support changes in how they interface with consumers.

Precision medicine

Healthcare’s one-size-fits-all approach to treating patients will start to be replaced next decade with a personalized approach to medicine that focuses on individuals, giving clinicians and patients access to the kinds of information needed to create individually-tailored programs to treat a variety of diseases.

While some pundits might contend that precision medicine is a distant future, the technology is already here, according to John Halamka, MD, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and head of its Health Technology Exploration Center.

All that is required for putting genomics to use in precision medicine are to ensure that the critical pieces are more evenly distributed and adopted, Halamka says. “Clinical genomics may not be synonymous with precision medicine, but it is certainly one of the key components that are helping practitioners realize its promise,” notes Halamka

Virtual or remote care

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