What technology needs to achieve in healthcare in 2022

With hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will be managed and under control, healthcare organizations need to play catch-up in making digital progress.

For healthcare, it’s been a challenging two years of bailing out the boat to keep things afloat. The future still appears challenging and clouded.

But looking ahead to the end of 2022 (forever the optimist here), what will healthcare organizations have under control by that point?

Various advances with technology over the last two years – and hopefully, a path through the coronavirus forest – will require the industry to catch up on initiatives that were put on hold or were not the focus of attention.

In addition, some of the advances made and efficiencies gained through the use of technology must be built upon. Healthcare was forced to revamp dramatically because of the pandemic, and the industry can’t afford to backslide on the progress it’s discovered in some areas.

So where does healthcare need to be at the end of the New Year? What gains must be made by December 2022? Here are some thoughts.

Information exchange and interoperability progress will be an expectation. Continued federal regulatory pressure from implementation of provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act and the release of the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement (TEFCA), expected early in 2022, will prod providers along. Increasingly tech-savvy and demanding consumers will want healthcare organizations to act more like the other businesses they’ve dealt with over the last two years. If pizza deliveries can be tracked to the minute, haphazard healthcare workflows and inefficiencies will look like bad anomalies.

Cooperatively developed standards must begin to show meaningful results. There’s been a lot of buzz around process simplification and optimization by the use of standards such as the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard. Initiatives using such standards and others intended to wring inefficiencies out of healthcare must move beyond project demonstrations and isolated production with specific trading partners to show they can be used widely throughout the industry. Initiatives such as the FHIR at Scale Taskforce (FAST) will be crucial to enabling promising standards to perform many-to-many connections. Initiatives, such as the ones to enable automation of the prior authorization process, offer huge benefits for the industry, if everyone believes standards can really work within workflows.

Automation must reduce workloads for clinicians. The industry’s workforce has been traumatized and disaffected by the physical and emotional burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology must tangibly make their lives easier and more fulfilling on the other side of the pandemic – it’s not a complete solution, by any means, and healthcare organizations must craft workforce support initiatives (increased pay is only a starting point) to restore battered psyches.

Getting tangible benefits out of artificial intelligence. There have been great expectations for what advanced computing can bring to healthcare. While much has been promised, organizations have not been able to move far beyond isolated use cases. Some promising platforms and ideas are on the horizon that would enable healthcare organizations to make artificial intelligence and machine learning work in the background, helping clinicians reduce workloads and point them toward solutions in patient care. Artificial intelligence needs to demonstrate consistent benefits in non-clinical areas – for example, supporting business operations and operational efficiency – to provide a return on investment for its use.

Ramping up telemedicine and virtual care services. Forced to ad lib because of the pandemic, providers moved rapidly to adjust to new paradigms – virtual encounters, telehealth and offsite care. As the COVID waves have ebbed and flowed, virtual care has fallen off the heights achieved when in-person care was more perilous. Consumers haven’t forgotten the ease of these connections, and even clinicians have seen the advantages in gaining efficiency in treating patients. More organizations understand that virtual care can pay dividends in improving patient experience, making clinicians’ lives earlier and increasing efficiency. Organizations will need to play off this potential and move encounters to virtual, while payers need to support the move as cost-effective and an efficient way to increase patient interactions.

Achieving savings as a precursor to value-based care. Technology has long been debated to be either a sunk cost of doing business, or an investment that should provide a return. Parts of both are true, but increasingly, there’s a sense that technology needs to provide some way to achieve efficiency and a path to improvement – it must enable some system optimization that can reduce costs and intelligence that helps clinicians provide better care and achieve better patient care. Even though value-based care contracts are not widely used today, they will grow as a percentage of providers’ business. As such, technology-enabled efficiency gains are a precursor to what will need to occur for organizations to manage value-based care.

Much work lies ahead for healthcare technology in 2022. In sum, it’s time to make major strides.

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