Industry Voices—3 ways tech will change healthcare in 2020

As the healthcare industry continues to move toward a model of value-based care, the global digital health market is expected to reach over $230 billion by 2023 (Frost & Sullivan).

The spirit of the fourth industrial revolution is well underway with ideas such as the internet of medical things (IoMT), surgical robotics, virtual care and artificial intelligence taking over industry headlines. 2019 was a year of acceleration in digital health with several foundational advancements.

As we look ahead to 2020, imperatives for progressive innovation will include harnessing consumer demand for healthcare technology, advocating for better reimbursement for tech-enabled care and building innovative models of care side by side.

Consumer trends in digital health will drive provider adoption and implementation

Among Fortune 500 companies, 84% now have healthcare capabilities (Chartis Group: The New World of Healthcare Partnerships: Technology Companies). Many of these are tech companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, have continued to move into the healthcare ecosystem. As these companies have traditionally offered information, products and services directly to consumers, consumers already trust them and rely on their solutions—for ease of use, speed and access to a connected world. This type of consumer demand will force healthcare companies to adapt and adopt technology more quickly in years to come.

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In a recent National Research Corporation report, 80% of patients reported that they would switch providers for “convenience factors” alone (NRC 2019 Healthcare Consumer Trends report). Consumers are looking to have healthcare delivered right to their door, similar to app-ordered delivery meals or streaming television. And with this expectation for immediate access, convenience and quality in their healthcare, patients are saying they’re more likely to consider virtual solutions now than ever before (Business Insider Intelligence Insurance Technology Study). Tech companies are ahead of this demand curve already by meeting consumers’ healthcare needs and preferences with connected products and services, including things such as wearable activity trackers and prescription delivery services.

While it is unlikely that patients will begin going to a “Google Health Hospital” instead of Mayo Clinic, tech companies do have a tremendous opportunity to influence healthcare delivery. Hospitals and health systems have historically been slow to adopt new technology for reasons of safety and cost. But in 2020, healthcare providers should be prepared to double down on health tech to maintain patient trust.

One way to do this: Partner with tech companies in order to change and improve care delivery. The executives and experts of the well-equipped tech giants are often not experienced medical professionals, however, they can offer the healthcare industry a look inside the tech playbook. From storing healthcare data in a technology cloud to enabling patients to use online pharmacies, partnership and industry collaboration will only grow in the next decade. The partnerships of 2020 have the opportunity to utilize the tech industry’s strong data collection capabilities with healthcare’s deep knowledge of patient care to create new and innovative solutions.

Legislation will be integral to advancing digital health

The passing of the Bipartisan Budget Act last year represented a significant boon to the telemedicine industry by expanding coverage for stroke and opioid addiction treatments. This piece of legislation, while impactful, only served to build a foundation for further discussion. Significant barriers still remain along the path to better reimbursement for virtual care.

In the recent past, lack of education around healthcare technology has been the hurdle to improved regulations. However, greater knowledge, fueled by patient demand around this issue, has begun to turn the wheel in Congress. In late October, the introduction of the CONNECT for Health Act of 2019 looks to expand the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring services via Medicare and could create $1.8 billion in savings over 10 years.

Similarly, as the healthcare industry evolves to meet consumer needs, legislation will evolve alongside it in 2020, particularly in light of it being an election year. Legislators will look to address the needs of their constituents across the country, including shrinking the gap in access to quality and affordable care nationwide. Better and faster reimbursement efforts for healthcare technology will likely be a core solution. The opportunity for healthcare technology advocates: By working together with our government, we can continue to justify the need for improved reimbursements across all patient-healthcare industry interactions.

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Digital health's evolution will require new tech

There are high hopes for digital health’s potential, but in keeping ourselves honest, we must be realistic about the current situation—solving healthcare’s biggest problems is going to require bigger, better tech. AI has emerged as a promising solution to these issues.

As we know, physicians continue to feel long-term, unresolvable job stress with 44%t reporting that they are burnt out in 2019 (Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019). A possible 2020 solution to this crisis: the application of AI to automate the administrative aspects of their job, such as documentation and reimbursement processes, that are eating away at patient care time. Currently, work is being conducted to find a solution to leverage AI to automate documentation of patient encounters in a qualified way that will prevent the need for secondary billing justification and redundancies. If successful, providers will be able to bill automatically, dramatically improving efficiency, cost and physician well-being.

Another trend will come after the industry recognizes increased digital health adoption. With more patients and companies reliant on digital health, the true industrial revolution will require improved platforms that align with updated models of care, enterprise technology solutions and infrastructures that support big data. The ability to store and analyze the massive amounts of patient and operational data being collected by enterprise solutions will ultimately provide health systems the opportunity to quantify and qualify “quality care,” understand access versus utilization, control costs and track patient and physician satisfaction.

Increased consumer demand, legislative action and new tech breakthroughs are all on the horizon for digital health in 2020 and the coming years. The opportunities for improvement of our healthcare ecosystem abound, and they are coming to fruition more rapidly than before. What lies ahead in 2020 is yet to be seen, but we’re only getting started in tech’s transformation of healthcare.

Dr. Yulun Wang is the founder, chairman and chief innovation officer of InTouch Health where he focuses on applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve health outcomes.