Healthcare is changing fast, and as a practicing physician it’s important to keep up with the trends. Here’s a simple breakdown of the top 5 healthcare technologies that will find broader use in 2021.

Top 5 Healthcare Technologies for 2021

1. Voice-to-text interfaces

Advances in voice recognition software have enabled huge leaps in speech-to-text solutions in the past few years. 2021 will see wider adoption of these technologies, saving physicians time on documentation and headachs searching the medical record.

Most consumers are already familiar with voice-to-text interfaces. For example, you can quickly dictate a text message or reminder to Siri on your iPhone and expect relatively high accuracy.

These same developments in voice recognition software are improving physicians’ documentation workflow. Many doctors are saving time by dictating clinical notes in real-time using their smartphone or desktop. Dictation apps have quickly improved, making mobile medical dictation a popular choice in 2021.

Advances in voice recognition are also being used to help clinicians look up information in the medical record. For example, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have created an interface physicians can use to ask questions of the medical record and get a response. The goal is to make information retrieval fast and accurate, and to give providers a visual break from the screen.

2. Machine learning

Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that allows systems to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Linked with vast pools of medical data, machine learning is being applied in areas from diagnosis and prognosis to drug development and epidemiology.

In 2021 machine learning will continue to be adopted in healthcare, especially in “back office” applications. These are use cases designed to improve overall throughput of a healthcare system. For example, intelligently processed data can help a hospital predict patients who are at higher risk of readmission so providers can act proactively.

In addition to predictive analytics, the healthcare industry is using machine learning to roll out smart medical records, more effective and efficient medical imaging and diagnostics, and faster drug discovery and development. Whatever your specialty, you’re going to see machine learning enter your field.

3. Internet of Things (IoT)

In healthcare, the Internet of Things (IoT) describes a growing network of medical devices and software applications connected through health care technology systems. This network includes millions of devices embedded with electronics and sensors, which “talk” to each other using wireless technology.

Your clinic or hospital is already part of the medical IoT. Think of patients with a wearable glucose monitor or heart monitor implant that automatically sends data to your EMR. Or consider the many virtual telehealth visits you’ve probably conducted in the past year. In each of these cases the IoT is at work facilitating machine to machine communication over virtual networks.

In 2021, the Internet of Things will pass a tipping point and become truly ubiquitous in healthcare. There won’t be a hospital in the United States that hasn’t invested in digital technology like remote patient monitoring or AI tools to analyze and interpret their system data.

The medical IoT feeds nicely into machine learning, as connected devices produce the vast quantities of data that AI applications process into meaningful insights. If you work in a larger hospital or health system, expect to see more examples of both in 2021.

4. Robotic Process Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) has long been used to carry out high-volume, error-prone and repetitive tasks in manufacturing, financial services, and other industries. Some of those vendors are now adapting their solutions for healthcare.

The most promising healthcare use case is to automate repetitive tasks in the revenue cycle such as claims management. Companies like Automation Anywhere and UiPath have already rolled out applications for just that purpose.

In 2021 you can expect to see vendors announce new RPA products for healthcare. These will focus on managing inventory, entering repetitive tasks, digitizing patient files, scheduling appointments, and processing claims.

As a physician, this technology may not change your day-to-day substantially. But if you work in a larger institution, you can expect to see RPA relieve some serious administrative headaches.

5. Blockchain

Blockchain is the last of the top 5 healthcare technologies that will break new ground in 2021. While blockchain has become a buzzword in the past few years, it’s actually starting to grow legs in healthcare. This data structure is particularly promising as a way to improve healthcare data security and interoperability.

Blockchain is a digital ledger technology that logs transactions publicly and in chronological order, making it impossible to tamper with. Without getting into the details, that basically means it is a useful and secure way of managing many types of data.

The global healthcare market is expected to spend $5.61 billion on blockchain technology by 2025. The goal of this spending is to save industry players $100-150 billion per year in costs associated with data breaches, IT, operations, and personnel.

There are countless ways to apply blockchain in areas like pharmaceuticals and insurance, but providers and institutions will also benefit. Companies are rolling out blockchain to streamline consent management, intake forms, contracts, and data transfer between patients and providers.

These are the top 5 healthcare technologies transforming the industry and clinical practice. While none are new to 2021, the industry is finding new and valuable ways to apply them.

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