As a physician, keeping up with the digital transformation of healthcare can feel overwhelming. But positive innovation can streamline physicians’ work, optimize systems, improve patient outcomes, and lower costs. Let’s look at six digital health trends that are transforming care in 2020.

1. Healthcare is going mobile

Since 2008 we’ve seen a steady increase in the use of smartphones and tablets in healthcare. This is clear from a quick look at the numbers: there are over 300,000 consumer health apps,  90 percent of physicians use a smartphone at work, and most major hospitals offer a mobile health app.

This trend isn’t surprising given the enormous popularity of smartphones and tablets. As of 2018, more than 50% of all web browsing in the world occurs on mobile devices.

Physicians say that mobile devices enable better communication between staff members, easier contact with patients, and convenient access to the EHR. And many doctors are finding innovative ways to use their devices to streamline clinical workflow. Whether you’re a physician dictating clinical notes between visits, or a patient scheduling their next appointment, mobile is increasingly the preferred way to do healthcare.

2. Patients want on-demand care options

The days of scheduling a doctor’s appointment months in advance are slipping by. In 2020, consumers want goods and services at their own convenience. In 2020, there are increasing options for patients to receive care on their own time and wherever they happen to be.

The simplest way this happens is through internet searches for medical information. Patients are going online to research doctors, find medical facilities, and book appointments.

But on-demand healthcare is also being provided through a range of new business models and care options. In 2020, we’re seeing this in the huge explosion of telehealth. We’ve also seen a revival of physician house calls, driven by an aging society, mobile technology, and new payment models. Digital health makes it easier for providers to deliver care in creative ways that sometimes skip the office altogether.

3. Big data is playing a bigger role

Big data in healthcare refers to the abundant health data amassed from numerous sources. These include EHRs, medical imaging, genomic sequencing, payor records, pharmaceutical research, wearables, and medical devices. The number of health data repositories is growing fast, and the healthcare industry is starting to find useful applications for this data.

Here are a few examples of ways big data is becoming useful in healthcare:

  • Preventing medication errors. Human error is always a factor in prescribing medications, sometimes for reasons as simple as choosing the wrong item in a pull-down menu. Big data can help reduce error rates by analyzing the patient’s record and flagging anything that seems out of place.
  • Reducing hospital wait times. Some hospitals have started using predictive analytics to assist with staffing. By predicting admission rates over the next two weeks, hospitals can save costs by allocating staff based on those numbers.
  • Enhancing patient engagement and outcomes. Many patients are now using wearable devices that monitor steps taken, hours slept, heart rate, and other data. On a large scale, this type of remote patient monitoring can help a care team more proactively engage high-risk patients and reduce unnecessary doctors’ visits.

4. Virtual healthcare has accelerated

Remote care has accelerated in 2020, in large part by necessity. As providers creatively responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the solution for many was telehealth.

But even before the pandemic, healthcare organizations were expanding the use of this technology. In a 2019 survey over 96% of health systems said they planned to expand virtual care offerings in the next 12 months.

As providers and patients become more comfortable with telehealth technology, they’re realizing that many visits can be effectively conducted virtually. This saves patients time and reduces congestion in the office.

Going forward, physicians and health systems will be more discerning before having patients schedule an in-person visit. Some visit types – such as minor complaints, medication refills, or chronic disease check-ins – may happen mostly remotely.

5. AI technology is becoming common

For many people, artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare brings to mind futuristic images of nurse robots wheeling around a hospital. And while these do exist, AI appears in less conspicuous ways in healthcare.

Chatbots and virtual health assistants are perhaps the most common example of AI-based technology. This technology can fill many roles from a customer service representative to a diagnostic tool and even a therapist.

But the real transformative potential for AI is in areas like precision medicine, medical imaging, drug discovery, and genomics. For example, cancer patients used to receive generic treatments with high failure rates. But thanks to AI’s sophisticated pattern recognition, these patients are now receiving personalized therapies tailored to their genetic makeup and medical history.

6. Blockchain promises better medical records

Doctors and hospitals have long been calling for solutions to streamline EHR documentation and address cybersecurity concerns around patient health data. The most popular emerging strategy among healthcare technologists is blockchain.

Blockchain is best known as the distributed accounting platform that makes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin possible. But it also provides a secure, auditable computing solution for many industries, including healthcare.

Blockchain has big advantages as a way to record and share patient health data. An EHR system built on blockchain technology would improve security, solve the interoperability problem, facilitate easier medical research, and give patients better access to their data.

Healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are already investing in blockchain. According to a recent report, the blockchain in healthcare market is expected to reach $890.5 million by 2023.

Keeping up with health trends as a physician

As a practicing physician, keeping up with digital health trends can feel like an extra job. It’s therefore important to find a balance between staying current and adopting vetted technology solutions that work.

Which of the technology trends described here is relevant to your practice? Is there anything new your team has been considering that it might be time to adopt?

Not all emerging technologies are worth investing in, but you also want to be flexible and keep an open mind. Be interested in the future, but stay focused on digital health trends that will enhance your practice now.

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