As we look back at 2020, all we are going to really remember is COVID-19. Given the way it has impacted life, I guess that is reasonable. However, as we look forward to 2021, there are a number of health IT trends that I see happening regardless of what happens with COVID and that were largely set up by everything that has happened this year. Here is my look at what healthcare organizations can expect in 2021.
Ambient Clinical Voice
One of the most exciting technologies in healthcare right now is ambient clinical voice. For those not familiar with the technology, it listens in the exam room to the doctor and patient and then transcribes the recording, applies natural language processing (NLP) to identify key terms, and creates the clinical documentation for the clinician. Sounds amazing. Well, when it works it is.
In 2021, if you have not heard of ambient clinical voice technology you will and you will try it. It still feels slightly early for this technology, but it is evolving quickly. By the end of 2021, every healthcare organization will want some sort of solution like this to remove the documentation burden on their clinicians. Plus, telehealth is going to provide the perfect on-ramp for this technology to go mainstream quickly since the audio recording tools are already built in.
New Digital Front Door
Healthcare is going to see a number of new digital front doors in 2021. The obvious one that everyone sees is that the waiting room is largely dead. A new digital check-in process is going to be necessary to help keep patients safe. The good news is that these new digital check-in options are going to provide a much better patient experience with things like helping the patient understand expected wait times. The quality of the intake documentation is going to improve with this new digital check-in as well.
The less obvious digital front door will be how patients select their doctor. In 2021, I predict we will see a wide variety of new referral patterns. Whether it is patients who are becoming more selective about who and which healthcare organizations they visit or whether it is new consumer telehealth-friendly options that are available, patients will be more in the driver seat when it comes to how they consume healthcare. What is not clear is who is going to own this new digital front door. Will it be a consumer application? Will it be a health system? Will it be a big tech company? Patients have more choices than ever and will need someone or something navigating them to the right option.
AI Creates Magic
I am not really suggesting that magic exists. Although, in 2021 there are going to be a whole series of AI solutions that feel like magic. They will actually be a really well-done AI bot that has the right data to be able to solve healthcare problems we did not understand previously.
The good news is that these AI solutions are not going to be contained to just one area. They will be scattered across all of healthcare. Patient messaging will be customized and personalized by a backend AI engine. Clinical notes, including things like radiology images, will be augmented by AI to streamline documentation and assist with quality care. AI solutions will improve clinical decision support and save lives as it assists with diagnosis and treatment decisions. Medical billing will be improved and optimized by AI.
Security Breaches Abound
This one likely will not be a surprise to anyone. Hackers suggested they might take 2020 off because of COVID, but we saw that this was not the case. Unfortunately, 2021 will be a banner year for more security breaches in healthcare, including nasty ransomware that will take down ill-prepared healthcare organizations for long periods of time. Hackers have seen how valuable it can be to breach a healthcare organization. Plus, healthcare organizations are getting bigger and bigger which makes them valuable targets. It is sad to say that 2021 will be more about when you have a breach versus if you will have a breach.
One good sign for healthcare security in 2021 is that solutions for things like email phishing are going to reach a new level of maturity and adoption. Much like network security today is a challenge that has a number of high-quality solutions, 2021 is going to be the year that we see email phishing security applications mature to a point that they are more effectively dealing with the problem.
New Patient Expectations
2021 is going to bring a new set of patient expectations. Many of these expectations have been shifting previously, but 2021 they will all come to a head in a big way. Patients will want to text with their doctor. Patients will expect digital payment methods. Patients will expect consumer-like digital check-in solutions. Patients will expect telehealth options or they find someone who does offer them.
While patients’ expectations will not be evenly distributed, many healthcare organizations that do not evolve to these changing expectations will struggle. However, those organizations that embrace these new expectations will create some of the richest patient experiences we have ever seen.
As we end 2020, I think we are all ready for something different in 2021. There are a lot of exciting things happening in health IT and some challenges still ahead. What do you think of these predictions? How do you see them playing out? What are your predictions for 2021?
If you want to learn more about how patient expectations are changing, download our guide, "Patient Communication Preferences: The COVID Impact."