Part 1: Predicting Healthcare Trends of 2019
With 2018 drawing to a close, it is time for the annual ritual of identifying and discussing potential industry trends of the new year. So, what do the experts think 2019 will bring the healthcare industry?
The short answer is “it’s complicated.” Because healthcare is such a complex industry, depending on whether we look at cost trends, technology trends in general, healthcare IT trends in particular, global or US healthcare trends, the answers will be very different.
This article highlights top trends in healthcare IT that experts have identified.
2019 Hot Areas in Healthcare IT and Digital Health
In healthcare IT, the big three — artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) — continue to capture the imagination of the experts. A favorite of prior years, Big Data, receives mixed reviews and even a shift towards meaningful “small data” and real-world evidence is predicted.
Artificial intelligence Dominates
More and more healthcare applications incorporating AI are being developed and AI solutions in clinical as well as non-clinical applications have started to show results. According to Frost & Sullivan, AI will “explode across healthcare and life science” applications in 2019 with machine learning tools becoming especially pervasive as platforms are operationalized across selective healthcare workflows to improve patient outcomes and productivity. The company estimates that the AI for healthcare IT applications market will cross $1.7B by the end of 2019. In terms of key applications, 2019 is expected to see increased use and operationalization of AI in medical imaging, digital pathology and drug discovery via real time analytics. The critical issue remains pricing as users, especially healthcare providers, remain reluctant to spend additional funds on AI. Solutions showing favorable ROI are therefore needed. However, according to PWC, investment in AI is all but certain over the next few years with three quarters of healthcare provider executives planning to invest in AI over the next three years.
Internet of (Healthcare) Things
Remote monitoring, wearables, mobile apps and smart sensors are all examples of how IoT applications change healthcare. The drivers behind the growth are the needs for cost-effective solutions that increase productivity, improve connectivity between clinicians and patients and enhance patient engagement. IoT solutions allow physician to monitor patients remotely and collect large amounts of data about their health that can be analyzed and used to diagnose and treat patients while reducing costs. This is one area where IoT, big data and AI converge and also where one of the major challenges becomes apparent: how can healthcare providers turn all that data into meaningful information and actionable insights about the patient while keeping the data secure.
Blockchain applications were all the rage in 2018 especially in connection with the Bitcoin craze. But blockchain technology has real applications in healthcare and 2019 looks like the year when blockchain moves from hype to reality with applications moving from pilot stage into limited commercial applications generating reasonable ROIs for users. The value of blockchain lies in the fact that it is a tamper-proof ledger and, as such, addresses one of the inherent challenges of healthcare: having more data about patients on which to base a diagnosis and/or a treatment plan is always better, however, health data is very sensitive, and thus needs to be kept secure and can only be shared under well-defined circumstances. Storing and ensuring the integrity of medical records using blockchain technology provides certainty that medical data can be stored in large quantities but records can’t be tampered with. Another application were vast amounts of data are generated that need to be kept secure are clinical trials. Thus, clinical trial data management is another logical blockchain application.
Big Data – Small Data
Unprecedented amounts of data have been collected over the last few years enabled by technology innovations and data is continuously generated by the zettabyte (1021 bytes). But data doesn’t equal information, let alone insight and so some experts predict a move from big data to focusing on “meaningful small data” by specialty. Big data has been around for some time now and the healthcare industry is getting more comfortable managing that data and will start utilizing it to better understand issues like treatment variability, clinical trial eligibility or drug utilizations. The convergence of data and AI will also advance what is known as augmented analytics (an approach that automates insights using machine learning and natural-language generation).
2019 promises to be an exciting year for healthcare with a number of high-profile technologies and approaches finally proving their value and innovations moving the industry in directions that even a decade ago seemed like they were straight from a science fiction novel to all but the most out of the box thinkers.