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5 Healthcare Technology Trends to Watch in 2020

by Eric Sullivan, SVP, Product Innovation & Data Management, on January 14, 2020
Eric Sullivan, SVP, Product Innovation & Data Management

This past decade experienced a tremendous digital transformation, with one of the most significant healthcare technology trends centered on data and its increasingly vital role in everything from informing diagnoses and improving the patient experience, to driving greater operational efficiencies and informing strategies to improve clinical quality and patient outcomes, to guiding approaches to maximize financial performance.

In today’s healthcare environment, healthcare stakeholders exchange massive amounts of data from countless, disparate sources. Much of 2019 focused on how best to capture, analyze and leverage that data to improve patient care building off of the federal government’s hefty investment in creating a foundational Electronic Health Record (EHR) ecosystem.  Understanding the importance of each patient’s uniqueness, the past few years of the decade saw the industry seeking opportunities to use social determinants of health data to garner these key patient insights and leverage artificial intelligence and other machine learning technologies to more effectively manage and understand patient care. Unsurprisingly, 2020 will bring much of the same, with the industry investing more heavily in the real-world implementation and execution of these patient-centric data and analytic strategies to more effectively improve patient outcomes.

Efforts Driving Greater Healthcare Interoperability & Connectivity to Remain Slow but Steady in 2020

As we head swiftly into 2020, we will see the continuing quest of the healthcare ecosystem to find innovative ways to standardize and connect patient data between health plans, providers, pharmacies and consumers. There is broad understanding across the industry of the integral role data-driven healthcare plays in enabling access to timely, comprehensive, complete and accurate patient data “profiles,” as well as the challenges this poses for an industry that still lacks broad connectivity among stakeholders and the ability to integrate and analyze disparate healthcare information in a meaningful way to drive better patient outcomes.

While it continues to frustrate most that the healthcare industry’s technological advances still lag behind many other industries, innovative efforts to address the connectivity/interoperability challenge are progressing, with government entities and industry consortiums like the CARIN Alliance, Da Vinci and The Sequoia Project paving the way and teaming up to address hurdles that have traditionally impeded progress in this area, including those around data standards, authentication, person identity matching and more. On the regulatory front, proposals by CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to advance and enable nationwide exchange of electronic health information across traditionally unconnected health information networks are aligned with market forces and reflect industry trends. In 2020, the industry can expect to see continued, collaborative advancements, though the transformation is likely to remain slow.

“Standardization efforts like Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources, FHIR, are hugely important to the ongoing industry effort of breaking down data silos and democratizing access to health data across providers and patients.” – Dr. Tashfeen Ekram, MedCity News

Among the efforts underway to enhance interoperability and connectively across the healthcare ecosystem, government and industry stakeholders alike are moving ahead in the adoption of HL7 FHIR® (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) data standards to support seamless, on-demand API-driven information exchange across the industry. As one of the fastest growing capabilities to standardize healthcare data exchange, there is growing consensus that HL7 FHIR® is providing greater opportunities for data sharing across the care continuum and enabling organizations to leverage their existing systems to improve care delivery and patient outcomes. Moving forward in 2020 and beyond, healthcare organizations seeking to leverage FHIR® models will need to address a range of strategic and technical considerations to ensure the development of innovative, foundational internal infrastructures that will help them achieve true interoperability and integration within – and across – the healthcare ecosystem.

Social Determinants of Health: Where Will the Data Take Us in 2020?

Of all healthcare technology trends centered on delivering high-quality, patient-centered care, use of social determinants of health (SDOH, or SDH) data is perhaps one of the most discussed of 2019, and we expect that to continue into 2020.  We now know that overall health outcomes are impacted more by SDOH than medical care determinants. In fact, Forbes research suggests that medical care accounts for 10 to 20 percent of health outcomes, while SDOH – including demographics, environment and socioeconomic factors – account for the remaining 80 to 90 percent. The ability to identify high-risk patients and understand what non-medical supplemental resources to use for which patients is crucial to improving overall outcomes help organizations meet increasingly high-quality standards. Frost & Sullivan analysts predict that by the end of the year, 40 percent of health systems and payers will be using SDOH data for risk assessments, patient engagement and operational decisions.

“57% [of patients] have a moderate to high risk for financial insecurity, isolation, housing insecurity, transportation and food insecurity, among others. We believe proactively engaging the right patients based on their social determinant of health can improve health outcomes and help healthcare organizations meet quality standards.” – Kamaljit Behera, Analyst, Frost & Sullivan

With use of SDOH data expected to remain a key healthcare technology trend, healthcare organizations and payers will need tools to make sense out of this data. While there is growing consensus that SDOH are powerful influencers on outcomes, utilization and cost, there is less agreement as to how to collect and use this information in patient care, performance measurement and payment systems. New data-driven models that are delivering key insights into the impact of non-clinical factors, like food insecurity and unemployment, on patient outcomes will help organizations understand the health impact of these factors and importantly how to prioritize finite resources.

Meanwhile, predictive analytics platforms that help collect this data and then track and analyze patient outcomes will gain importance and help the industry transition from talking about the importance of SDOH data to leveraging the data to make changes that drive improvements.

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare: Is 2020 the Year of Machine Learning in Healthcare?

Although the industry has been slow to fully embrace artificial intelligence (AI), 2019 certainly saw an uptick in expansion of AI and other machine learning technologies, including the expansion of natural language processing use cases. The expected continued expansion of AI as a healthcare technology trend in 2020 – paired with data interoperability and expanded insights including SDOH – will improve efficiencies, lower costs and help to more accurately predict outcomes and identify patient cohorts, which will become increasingly important as the trend toward patient-centered care and personalized medicine increases.

The potential of AI in healthcare remains vast, as it can help patients take better care of themselves through wearables and other devices that record personal health data that can be used by healthcare providers to deliver more patient-specific care. But perhaps the greatest potential for AI in healthcare lies in how we use the technologies to understanding the uniqueness of each patient. Organizations that develop algorithms to offer deep insights can provide invaluable intelligence on everything from an individual patient’s likelihood of experiencing a stroke, heart attack, or even cancer to a hospital’s readmission rate to a health plan’s gaps in care for an entire membership – helping to bridge vital chasms in the patient care journey and enabling clinicians to intervene sooner, delivering a superior patient experience and improving the overall health of a population.

With the country firmly moving forward with value-based care, AI and other machine learning technologies, paired with data interoperability to bridge important information silos, will improve patient outcomes while driving operational efficiency to lower the overall cost of care. By supporting healthcare providers with predictive machine learning models, clinicians will be able to more effectively forecast clinical events, like strokes, cancer, or heart attacks, and intervene early with personalized care and a superior patient experience.

Despite excitement around the ideal of leveraging AI in healthcare, like so much in the healthcare industry, many of the most promising AI applications are segmented, with individual companies making progress toward addressing a single problem. What is lacking are more comprehensive tools. That need prompted Dr. Felix Matthews, a managing director and physician leader at Deloitte to predict an uptick in alliances between tech companies and healthcare organizations.

“What I believe we will see in the next year or two is algorithms that interpret multiple data sources at the same time from different variables. Once you’ve got that, the sky is the limit.” – Dr. Felix Matthews, Managing Director, Deloitte

Telehealth: Will Remote Patient Care Rise to the Top of  Healthcare Technology Trends in 2020

As the healthcare industry has shifted to a focus on the quality – rather than the quantity – of care provided to patients, providers, health systems and health plans alike have necessarily shifted their thinking to include how patients want to receive care in addition to the kind of care they receive. To that end, look for remote patient monitoring and telehealth to rise to the list of top healthcare technology trends in 2020, especially when partnered with the understanding of how to leverage non-medical supplemental benefits and SDOH information. According to Forrester, a review of historical outpatient claims data “suggests that about 43% of outpatient visits could be addressed through a virtual care visit,” making telehealth an option healthcare organization should consider for cost reduction and improved care delivery.

Forbes analysts project that many progressive health systems will consider telehealth a “standard of care” option for primary care virtual consultation by the end of 2020. As this technology seeks to receive full regulatory approval, and as more clinicians support it, telehealth will begin to address some of the industry’s biggest challenges, including access to care and rising healthcare costs, while offering patients more affordable, non-traditional healthcare options.

The increase in telehealth services provided by health systems and clinicians is driving an increase in the number of health plans that offer reimbursement for telehealth – an important shift for Medicare Advantage members who stand to benefit greatly from the availability of video consultations considering the physical and financial barriers they often face when contemplating traveling to their doctor’s office. Forrester predicts that providers will “conduct millions of new virtual visits in 2020,” with many of them taking place with patients who live in rural or underserved areas of the country.

“Engaging patients in the home, workplace or other convenient locations first and helping them make a decision on the right place to seek medical care can reduce…drastic overuse of an emergency room.” – Jeff Becker, Forrester analyst

Consumer-Driven Sharing of Healthcare Data Continues to Drive Innovation

If AI in healthcare emerged as a top theme among healthcare organizations in 2019, increased sharing of healthcare data certainly , and that will continue to be a key theme in 2020. In fact, the analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2023, “personal data stewardship practices in healthcare will triple globally.” As the healthcare industry continues to forge efforts at interoperability, the idea that patient data belongs to patients is being championed by healthcare leaders, including CMS Administrator Seema Verma. Understanding the impact of how the healthcare ecosystem can effectively combine critical data points to improve outcomes will continue to be evaluated.

Increasingly, patients are able – and quite willing – to share their health data. From digital health apps that provide health and wellness tips to wearable devices that track steps taken and vital statistics of patients to Apple’s Health Records, a personal health record feature that combines data obtained through a patient’s personal Apple device with data from an electronic health record of a healthcare organization from which they have received care, patients have never had more of their own health data literally at their fingertips. In the past year, Apple landed several key partnerships with healthcare organizations, and 2020 could be the year that this tech giant links up with an electronic health records vendor, effectively closing a key interoperability gap.

It remains to be seen if patients are truly able to manage their own healthcare data and use it in meaningful ways. Patients – especially those who may be chronically ill – may be unlikely to keep health information updated, which leads to concerns on data quality and accuracy. Without being able to ensure the integrity of data, the industry is still a good distance from being able to derive deep analytics from consumer-provided data.

Challenges aside, 2020 will see continued growth in consumer-driven sharing of healthcare data because patients are increasingly taking greater control over their healthcare decisions, and that includes how and when they share healthcare data with their healthcare providers. Organizations that have already taken strides to explore data partnerships with patients are driving “innovative solutions and noteworthy results,” according to article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“It is imperative that we leverage the expertise of a group of stakeholders who know a tremendous amount about bending the health care cost curve: the high-need, high-cost patients themselves.” – Lala Tanmoy Das, MS, Erika L. Abramson, MD, MSc & Rainu Kaushal, MD, MPH in the New England Journal of Medicine

This year is poised for great opportunities in the healthcare industry. Those organizations willing and able to leverage advanced technology, data and consumer-driven insights will see measurable impact on quality of care and overall patient outcomes.

For more about the technology trends to watch in 2020, view Avalere’s webinar, 2020 Healthcare Industry Outlook: See the Turns Ahead.

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