2021 Healthcare Trends

Forbes sees numerous healthcare trends that will impact 2021. Some of these trends include the following:

COVID-19 vaccines and therapies

Already, FDA has approved two vaccines for use in America. The first vaccine approved was made by Pfizer, Inc. The second vaccine approved was made by Moderna. These two vaccines use an innovative new approach called Messenger RNA or mRNA for short. mRNA helps to trigger your immune system to produce protective antibodies. Unlike most vaccines, mRNA does not use actual parts of the virus.

Many other possible COVID-19 vaccines are going through clinical trials which use the virus to help product antibodies.

The hope is that when enough people are vaccinated, herd immunity will develop which will effectively mean the end of the pandemic.

Vaccines are currently being distributed across the country. The states are determining who is vaccinated first. At the head of the line are healthcare workers who treat COVID-19 patients on a regular basis and nursing home residents who are most susceptible to dying if the healthcare worker or senior contracts the disease. Essential workers, people 65 and over, and people with known risk factors are likely next in line to receive the virus.

Patients with chronic conditions seeking medical treatments

A major secondary problem with COVID-19 is that many patients who needed medical care stayed away from hospitals to reduce the risk of exposure to the deadly disease. There’s a major concern about how COVID-19  has “severely diminished access to preventative and primary care for patients who have complex and costly chronic conditions.” Many patients didn’t get the care needed to prevent their condition from worsening. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 out of 10 Americans have at least one chronic condition, and four in 10 have two or more. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability. Sadly, many chronic conditions can be prevented or stabilized.”

As the world returns to normal with the promise of two vaccines by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna which have already received FDA emergency use authorizations, it’s likely that many patients who have been holding off on seeing their doctors will be making appointments for treatment. Even patients who needed ER care held off on going to the ER because of concerns about contracting COVID-19 – especially since the ER was/is where patients with COVID-19 went for treatment.

According to the medical journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), many doctors closed permanently or reduced their hours of operation due to the pandemic. Most medical practices saw a reduced demand for medical services causing the medical practices to suffer financially.

The demand for non-COVID-19 treatments should help with the finances of many medical practices and medical facilities.

Telehealth services

As we’ve discussed in numerous articles, the pandemic has helped to impress on the medical community and patients how useful telehealth services are. Many states relaxed telehealth service laws and regulations during the pandemic so more people could be treated for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 symptoms.

Once the pandemic is over, many medical practices that used telemedicine may continue to see the benefits of health medicine. States will likely reconsider their telehealth laws and regulations to address patient needs.

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Genomics and gene editing

Additional healthcare trends according to Forbes include genomics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Gene editing enables us to influence specific traits that are inherited by new living cells, when new proteins are created by the division of existing cells. These traits, known as phenotypes, govern the cell’s longevity, its ability to survive against injury or illness, and many other factors. By manipulating these phenotypes through techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9, scientists have already made many advances in treatments of killer diseases, including Duchenne muscular Dystrophy, heart disease, and cancer.”

Thanks to advances in genomics and gene editing, Forbes predicts that treatments called “precision medicine” may be more likely. Precision medicine is where medications can be customized to match a patient’s genetic profile – “making them more effective, as well as less likely to cause unwanted side-effects.”

Genomics is being used to create a “lab on a chip,” which is “designed for fast detection of coronavirus infection.” In this way, doctors can use a handheld device to detect if people are infected – instead of using symptoms like coughing or the patient’s temperature.

Forbes states that startups like Tropic Biosciences, a UK company, are using technology to create caffeine-free coffee beans, which means companies don’t need to spend time and money decaffeinating regular coffee beans. Genomics is creating products such as “disease-resistant bananas, which would save a fortune on agricultural production costs.

Data and AI may lead to other patient benefits

The vast amount of data available to health providers and insurance companies is worrisome due to concerns about privacy and security. Health providers and companies continually need to work with experienced healthcare providers to keep current with the changing privacy and security compliance requirements.

Still, there is a plus side. The cumulative data providers get, even from such things as patient data from online and personal electronic devices, helps give doctors and health providers a more complete picture of a person’s health needs – and when intervention may be required.

Such tools as track-and-trace systems, during the COVID-19 pandemic, are helping keep infection levels in check – in regions where the systems are being used and other social factors are being met.

AI and the increase in data may lead to better tools to determine where health resources can be most effective. Insurance companies may set premiums more on patient risk factors than on other criteria.

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AI, IoT, and smart cities may help detect and address future mass healthcare dangers

“’Smart cities’ is a term used to describe the concept of building digital connectivity and automated data-driven decisioning into the fabric of urban life, including planning public transport networks, refuse collection, energy distribution, and environmental health initiatives. AI stands for artificial intelligence which is machine/computer intelligence as opposed to human intelligence. IoT (the Internet of Things) is the vast network of “things” such as software and sensors that connect devices like computers and smartphones across the Internet.”

The coronavirus pandemic and global warming are likely to change the numbers of people who live in close proximity to each other – which has numerous pros and cons. According to Forbes, “the UN predicts 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.” In 2021 and beyond, city and community planning will focus more on strategies to address and respond to catastrophic outbreaks. Already, architects are working on buildings that encourage social distancing and remote conferencing. Cities and communities will also focus on the environment “with tech-driven initiatives aimed at reducing air pollution and building resilience to climate-driven change such as temperature and sea-level rises, likely to take center-stage as we move into the ‘20s.”

Forbes also states that there will need to be a better balance between primary care physicians and specialists on a patient’s behalf.

The role of the chief information officer for a medical practice or facility will expand

Other healthcare trends for 2021, according to Becker’s Hospital Review, include the following:

The role of the chief information officer and other information officers will expand due to continued reliance on IT systems for most every aspect of healthcare including data entry, record keeping, electronic health information, patient records, telehealth, and cybersecurity.

“Organizations will continue accelerated digital transformation next year, and the CIO’s role will evolve to look more like that of a COO’s, overseeing the organization’s strategy and risk management. IT teams also are evolving to include more people with clinical backgrounds, data scientists, and senior security professionals.”

In 2020, security includes more than just stealing information and selling it. Ransomware can shut down an entire healthcare system. Medical staff will need to be educated and trained on the latest procedures for reducing the risk of cyber-attacks.

Electronic health records (EHRs)

“As digital voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have secured a place in consumers’ living rooms, hospitals and health systems are inviting similar technologies into patient rooms.”

Companies such as Epic and Cerner and Saykara are working on voice technology and voice assistants “to understand the context of a patient-physician conversation without being prompted by voice commands.”

Additional AI uses

Becker’s Hospital Review states that researchers are working on AI models which can read medical images. AI was used to help create “predictive models for COVID-19 cases spreading across the country.”

Wearable technology and “other biomedical devices, combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence will continue to transform clinical research, treatment protocols and increase the virtual care capabilities of health providers” according to Eric Yablanka, CIO and associate dean of technology and digital solutions at Stanford Health Care and School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif. Data scientists will move to the forefront of helping patients obtain better health outcomes.

Data management

As the collection of data speeds up, even smaller practices and organizations will need to consider “cloud implementations to securely store and coordinate data. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google all have healthcare-specific clouds.” These clouds and other data management technologies will be needed for research and for electronic health records.

Predictive analytics

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, “Mount Sinai Health System in New York City created machine learning-powered models to identify high risk and likelihood of mortality among COVID-19 patients for more efficient patient management.”

Pittsburgh-based UPMC is using data analytics along “with its clinical data warehouse that provides insights to clinicians and patients. The health system continuously improves upon their system by layering on new tools, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, bringing them closer to predictive analytics.”

A CIO and senior VP of UPMC stated that, “In the future, we envision that the analytic insights will evolve to be used at the bedside during the point of care. We also envision that analytics will enable us to proactively manage care and our patient population to keep them out of the hospital and healthy. We are already doing this today in some parts of UPMC and hope to expand this to all clinical departments and service lines.”

Electronic health record advances

This year HHS finalized its interoperability rules “spurred by the need for record sharing during the pandemic.” These new regulations were drafted to help “patients gain better control of their health data via smartphone apps.” “Interoperability is expected to increase between providers, payers, and health tech developers.

Google and Epic, a large EHR vendor, are seeing huge increases in shared patient records. EPIC saw a 40% increase in shared records from the year before – for a total of 221 million shared patient records.

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The digital front door

More and more, the first experience patients will have with a medical provider is with the provider’s online health system. “As hospitals and health systems look to the future, many, such as Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health and SCL Health in Broomfield, Colo., are investing in a digital front door, which includes the organization’s website and mobile apps that host the online patient portal, scheduling, telehealth visits, and educational resources.”

Additional medical innovations

As we discussed, mRNA (Messenger RNA) was used to develop the first two vaccines given emergency use authorization by FDA for the treatment of COVID-19. This biotechnology should hopefully be useful for treatment of other diseases too. The innovations are expected to help provide for better medical treatments, better medical management, and a better doctor/patient relationship.

Robotic surgeries are expected to expand. According to Becker, “In October, a surgical team at St. Elizabeth Edgewood (Ky.) Hospital became the first hospital in the U.S. to implant a Bluetooth-connected cardiac defibrillator, which can wirelessly pair with a smartphone app for patients to control. By 2025, the global medical robots market is expected to reach $12.7 billion, up from about $5.9 billion in 2020.

Innovation is the key driver of 2021 health trends.

Medical practitioners and IT developers should contact Cohen Healthcare Law Group, PC for legal advice on the new innovations are driving the medical economy. Our experienced healthcare attorneys work with medical practices and companies as the practices and businesses work to create and use the latest medical technologies.

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