It’s finally 2021, and although the pandemic is still looming over our heads, a new year means new technology trends for the healthcare industry. No one could have predicted the year that we had in 2020, but the unpredictability didn’t stop technology from advancing in ways healthcare professionals now deem as essential to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and put an end to the pandemic. Here are five anticipated technology trends to look out for in the healthcare industry this year:
When stay-at-home orders first started in March 2020, there was a sudden and drastic increase of technology use within healthcare. For the most part, this was a good thing as it allowed people to receive the healthcare that they needed without having to further risk their health and safety. However, the increased use of technology also opened a door to increased cyber-attacks across the country. “Cyberattacks on healthcare facilities in the U.S. this year alone have affected 17.3 million people in 436 breaches tracked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Breach Portal. That is up from 31 breaches affecting 419,000 people in January alone,” says Forbes. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, ransomware was a huge issue in the second half of 2020 as it even shut down IT systems in a number of hospitals, resulting in operations at the facilities to slow down. “In October hackers hit six hospitals with ransomware in 24 hours,” Becker’s reports. “IT teams will need to effectively communicate good cyber hygiene to staff members to prevent attacks and troubleshoot vulnerabilities as work goes permanently remote.” Although cybersecurity is extremely important to any industry, it’s especially important to healthcare, since most of the data in hospitals include personal information. We can expect to see an increase in cybersecurity investment in 2021.
Telehealth and telemedicine
It comes as no surprise that telehealth and telemedicine will continue to expand in efforts and capabilities as we enter into the new year. Hospitals and healthcare organizations are continuously working to make remote care as efficient as possible. This includes an increase in wearable devices that can track factors such as a patient’s heart rate from their own home, and the expansion of the type of care, they can offer virtually such as introducing more personal technology with delivery service options. As HealthTech Magazine reports, “Organizations are supporting this movement by optimizing and expanding their telehealth programs and setting up ‘digital front door’ portals that offer a variety of self-service functions and messaging services.” Regulations for telehealth insurance coverage will also continue to expand and adjust this year as the pandemic continues. That way, individuals don’t have to choose between risking their own health to receive care, and staying home but having to pay a high fee out of pocket.
New sanitation technology
One healthcare trend that doesn’t often come up in discussion but is expected to be a big part of healthcare in 2021 is the development of more advanced sanitation technology for hospitals and healthcare facilities. This includes everything from technology that can detect symptomatic visitors that enter the premises to machines that sanitize the building itself. Health Tech Magazine says, “Deployments may include autonomous robots that emit germ-killing ultraviolet light to decontaminate rooms in 15 minutes and RFID technology to track how long – and how often – employees wash their hands.” It’s also becoming more common for hospitals to use thermal cameras in order to detect elevated body temperature from not only patients and visitors, but healthcare workers and hospital staff as well.
Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality
Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are high on the list of anticipated tech trends for yet another year and the healthcare industry is using AI and VR in countless ways for both their patients and staff. In fact, Forbes reports that the AI and VR market is expected to grow from $2 billion in 2019 to $34 billion in 2027. Although hospitals are still open for emergencies and essential appointments, most organizations are still making sure that a minimum amount of people are inside their vicinities during the pandemic, which is where AI and VR come in handy. In some teaching hospitals, VR is used to re-create a realistic clinical experience for student learning or virtual surgeries used for training purposes. With this tool, hospitals can limit the amount of exposure time students and other staff have with a large group of people. It can also be used for lung scans in COVID-19 patients as well as aid in mental health and chronic pain treatment. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are certainly not new to the healthcare industry, but the field is only expected to grow in its capabilities this year and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it listed among the top healthcare tech trends for many years to come.
Data analytics is one piece of technology that will probably stop trending eventually. However, this year is an important year for it, as it’s one of the most essential tools used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. As emphasized in our recent blog, “What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine and Data Collection,” data is a must for vaccine tracing. Information from vaccine recipients as well as shipment information is pooled into data sets that are used to manage vaccine distribution and to ensure that the process is done as efficiently as possible. Ed McCallister, senior vice president and CIO of UPMC emphasizes that, “The use of analytical insights in the healthcare industry is very reactive. In the future, we envision that the analytic insights will evolve to be used at the bedside during the point of care. We also envision that analytics will enable us to proactively manage care and our patient population to keep them out of the hospital and healthy.”