What Will be the Healthcare Tech Trends for 2021? The New Tools to Check Out

2020 was surely a year of innovation, boasting everything from robots to home-based care models, and this innovative trend is bound to continue.

Healthcare delivery has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in unprecedented and even permanent ways.

The urgent needs created from the novel virus were addressed by strong, technologically-driven responses, something that will have positive effects lasting beyond the crisis. Patients and providers now have new options for preventive care and greater connectivity.  

Although rapid advancements are exciting they can also be challenging to IT teams. These teams need to know what to deploy, as well as incorporating it into their clinical ecosystems.

There will be plenty to think about in 2021, what with patients’ expectations evolving and the COVID-19 vaccinations on the way. Below are 5 things that teams should be mindful of:

1. The Healthcare Experience Will Be Increasingly Driven by Patients

The need for patients to have a more proactive role when dealing with their health has increased, what with the hospitals having to handle high-risk cases and working to deliver long-distance care for the non-acute cases. The imperfections in home healthcare delivery will also have to addressed and enhanced by more personal technology.

”Digital front door” portals are being set up and organizations are enhancing and expanding their telehealth programs in order to support the movement. The portals provide a variety of messaging services and self-service functions.

Minimizing readmissions has been a matter of upmost importance in recent months. Efforts for this are being made by health IT teams that are launching and expanding wearables and remote patient monitoring programs in order to collect and transmit patients’ vital signs remotely. Education and connectivity are two of the issues that the providers must be ready to manage.

2. Cleaning Technologies and Hospital Design will Undergo Permanent Changes

Healthcare providers are seeking out tools to aid them in tackling the important tasks of deep cleaning and enforcing good hygiene. These tools will helps the spaces be more sanitary. The layouts of the facilities and the check-in processes are also due to change in order to minimize congestion and to be able to find contagious visitors before they even step foot in the building.

Prospective deployments could be RFID technology and autonomous robots. RFID technology can be used to track and trace the duration and frequency of hand washing done by employees. Autonomous robots can be used to decontaminate spaces in only 15 minutes, by their emission of germ-killing ultraviolet light. Moreover, thermal cameras are now frequently being used in hospitals’ entrances to identify people with a high body temperature, a common COVID-19 symptom.

Design changes to buildings’ layouts will also increase, including converting spaces to accommodate temporary rushes in critical-care patients, as well as adding glass or plastic walls in order to observe patients that need to remain in isolation and using retrofitted rooms for delivering inpatient telehealth. Other measures that can be taken to avoid an overcrowded waiting area are using tools like touch-screen kiosks and handheld alert buzzers.  

3. The Need for Efficiency and Reduction of Clinical Burden Calls for AI and Automation

The doctors and the supporting staff not only need to manage surges of COVID-19 cases but they are also facing issues due to staff reductions due to illness or mandated isolation. These challenges need to be addressed by solutions that will be able to manage some of the workload or even anticipate a need before it arises.

The search for touch-free interactions and efficiency solutions can potentially increase the clinical use of natural language processing, by seamlessly transmitting data into a patient’s electronic health record. Natural language processing is a branch of AI allowing computers to comprehend spoken remarks. Automated services like symptom-checking chatbots can also ease administrative congestion.

In early 2020, panelists at HIMSS20 suggested that the increasing use of AI will gradually develop to deliver personalized care. This personalized care could include virtual assistants to notify patients with medication reminders, therapy aided by robots for patients recovering from stroke and algorithms and machine learning that can accurately detect cancer and heart disease.  

4. Integration of AR and VR Across the Care Spectrum

The time when immersing oneself in a virtual world or observing real-life spaces with digital enhancements was just a game has long gone. Nowadays, medical professionals, with the use of specially designed software and headsets, are broadening the horizons of these technologies. The potentials for augmented and virtual reality are also underscored with the clinical spaces and classrooms shutting down during the pandemic.

Among the options provided by these technologies are supplemental clinical experiences for nursing students, lifelike surgical training programs, distractions for pain management and even the capacity to view images with a novel and detailed perspective. A good example of this last option are the clinicians at the George Washington University Hospital that analyzed a COVID-19 patient’s lung scans using VR!

Senior care communities will also find tremendous benefits by using VR. Virtual travel and avatar-led chat rooms are not only fun but they are also engaging and can trigger memories, rendering these activities extremely therapeutic. Especially during quarantine, this technology broadens the horizons for seniors, offering them brand new perspectives and can be done solo or in a group too.

5. Data Analytics and Interoperability will be Supporting Widespread Vaccination

Soon, hoards of COVID-19 vaccine shipments will have to be tracked, patients will have to be notified and two separate visits will have to be planned for each of them. Healthcare organizations will have to keep up with all the virus’ consequences by deploying strong data analytics and real-time tracking platforms.

Critical, in order to track who has been vaccinated, will be increased data interoperability between different EHR platforms and healthcare systems. Such meticulous tracking will be extremely beneficial, not only for public health in general but also in making sure that record-keeping is done accurately in case a person relocates or switches providers prior to the second dose of the vaccination.

Designed to make consumers’ access to their own health data better, are the new federal interoperability rules. These rules will most likely aid these efforts, however, organizations will have to adopt data-sharing standards and technologies in order to complete them.