8 Emerging Trends in Digital Healthcare Industry in 2018: Limitless Opportunities vis-à-vis the Challenges Ahead

Sep 20, 2018 posted by Ankit Goel under Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation Trends in Healthcare I

Just like various other industries, driven by the need for better customer experience, digital healthcare trends are now commonplace. Nations across the world are relentlessly engaged in the process of propagating digital innovation in healthcare services in their respective countries to achieve greater life expectancy. Developing compulsive healthcare digital strategy, needless to say, has become the new mantra of the healthcare sector.

If we talk about digital technology in healthcare industry, we must first understand what it’s all about and how it is disrupting the healthcare scenario. What should primarily be understood is that digital healthcare is not only about adopting newer technologies but also involves revamping the processes for improving the deliverables as well as increasing the efficiency. The salvo of digital innovation in healthcare has triggered a tectonic shift even compelling insurance companies to change their approach from volumes to value of care by initiating out-of-the-box health insurance digital transformation projects.

Digital technology in healthcare industry is fast proving to be a game changer by extensive deployment of automation and AI. A fine example of that would be the introduction of chatbots to replace humans, thus cutting costs and removing the need for visiting a doctor in cases where only self-care is required.

However, having said that, despite the digital technology rapidly spreading its clout, even today healthcare lags far behind other industries like retail and travel in achieving customer-centricity. It may sound surprising to many, but the United States of America, a country which has the costliest healthcare system in the world, touching almost 20 per cent of the country’s GDP, was ranked the worst among industrialized nations in efficiency, equity and outcomes by the Commonwealth Fund Survey. The findings of the survey were based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Health Organization and interviews from physicians and patients. While the United Kingdom ranked best, Switzerland finished a close second. So, it can be easily ascertained that while there are limitless opportunities for implementation of digital technology in healthcare there is no dearth of bottlenecks either.

Although the healthcare sector has traditionally been a slow adopter of digital technology, significant changes are expected to take place in the digital healthcare industry over the next few years. It is estimated that the digital healthcare market will touch $206 billion by 2020. A recent study conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics concluded that while 70% healthcare companies are planning to digitalize operations, another 61% feel that digital transformation will increase patient satisfaction.

Let’s take a closer look at 8 Emerging Trends in Digital Healthcare Industry in 2018:

Trend #1: Telemedicine is Fast Becoming a Necessity Especially for Countries Having Large Populations

Perhaps the most apparent digital healthcare trend to have emerged in 2018 is the evolution of telemedicine which has brought about a radical change especially in the US healthcare system. When it comes to large countries like India or the United States where access to providers is limited, telemedicine plays a vital role. If we specifically take the example of the United States of America, according to the 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicaid Acceptance Rates, even in urban areas, the patient wait times have increased from 18.5 to 24 days since 2014. In such a scenario, telemedicine is turning out to be an all important tool which ensures that even patients from rural areas get access to specialists. Availability of patients’ medical records in digital format for specialists to refer to, as and when required, is a major benefit offered by telemedicine. The opportunities for growth of telemedicine in digital healthcare have now become even more limitless with the introduction of wearable devices which enable real-time monitoring of patients without physically admitting them to the hospital. According to London-based global information provider, IHS Markit Ltd, the projected number of telehealth patients is expected to reach 7 million in 2018, up from 1.16 million in 2015.

Trend #2: Make way for the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT)

Digital healthcare industry is presently witnessing a new revolution with the arrival of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) – a confluence of IoT, telemedicine and telehealth technologies. This digital healthcare technology takes a whole new approach by employing the use of wearable devices like ECG and EKG monitors. IoMT plays a critical role in preventing chronic illnesses by tracking vital medical stats through various connected devices and mobile apps. Another significant contribution of IoT to digital healthcare has been the introduction of wearable devices like wristbands that help take common medical measurements like heart rate, blood pressure, calorie count, etc. These IoT enabled wearable devices have now become highly popular both among the younger generation as well as old-timers owing to them being affordably priced. According to a research by business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, almost 60% operations in the healthcare field had already adopted IoT or IoMT systems by 2017. The arrival of this digital innovation in healthcare has enhanced both customer experience and profitability. It is expected that by 2020, the number of deployed IoMT devices would be anywhere between 20 and 30 billion. Another research carried out by Allied Market Research has reported that the market for IoT devices in healthcare will touch $136 billion by 2021.

Trend #3: Chatbots Serving as Digital Assistants to Physicians

Just like any other industry, saving costs is a major concern for the healthcare industry as well. Chatbot technology is helping deal with routine medical queries using AI-backed messaging and voice systems in an affordable manner.  The chatbots of today are designed to learn from patient interactions and assume the role of a general practitioner. In fact, some chatbots like Woebot have now also acquired the capabilities of serving as digital therapists. Smart bots serve as digital assistants to physicians in keeping track of contacts and managing appointments with patients. On the other hand, chatbots also make life easier for patients by providing timely prescriptions, conducting lab tests and making the billing procedure uncomplicated. Although the chatbot technology is still in its early phase of development, market research firm Grand View Research has estimated that the global chatbot market will touch $1.23 billion by 2025, a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.3 per cent. In the current digital healthcare industry landscape, healthcare chatbots can be broadly bifurcated into two categories, the first, patient-only apps that help patients track health data; and second, patient-clinician applications which act as a bridge between the two groups to serve the purpose of diagnosis and treatment.    

Trend #4: Growing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another nascent digital technology in healthcare which can replicate humans in processing information and decision making. AI has undoubtedly opened new horizons of digital innovation in healthcare by improving the speed and accuracy of diagnosis. Aided by data analytics, physicians can now explore different approaches of treatment. AI enabled body scans can spot chronic diseases like cancer early, thus saving lives and bringing down the mortality rate. Pharmaceutical companies are deploying machine learning algorithms for exploring chemical and biological interactions to develop new drugs, replacing the earlier process of conducting clinical trials, which used to cost billions of dollars and take more than a decade. During the recent Ebola virus outbreak, AI technology was used to scan existing medicines to explore the possibility of reformulating them to find an effective cure against the deadly virus. It has been projected that by 2020, the average spending on artificial intelligence (AI) projects by healthcare provider organizations and technology vendors to healthcare will touch $54 million.

Trend #5: Rapid Acceleration in Adoption of Cloud Services

The primary reason for the rapid adoption of cloud computing by the healthcare sector is that only cloud-based solutions give healthcare providers and patients the required access in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which sets the standards for sensitive patient data protection. In fact, a recent CIF study established that 98% companies have never experienced a breach of security while using a cloud service. The global public cloud market is expected to touch $178 billion, up from $146 billion in 2017, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22 per cent. Experts have predicted that over 50% businesses of the healthcare industry that are on the road to digital transformation will rely on at least one public cloud platform. More than 83% of healthcare enterprises are currently using some form of cloud platform and the trend will continue throughout 2018 with more focus shifting on cloud optimization and ROI.

Trend #6: Big Data Analytics is Redefining the Dynamics of Digital Healthcare Industry

All thanks to the digital innovation in healthcare which has led to more and more healthcare organizations using data to provide tools for seamlessly delivering healthcare services, the big data industry has received a shot in the arm and is expected to reach $102 billion by 2019. Big data, when applied to healthcare can use health data to help prevent epidemics, reduce costs and cure diseases. A unique example of this is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) pilot big data program called BioMosaic which tracks epidemics by merging population data, health statistics and population migration in real time. Even health insurers aren’t too far behind in harnessing the potential of big data as an innovative digital healthcare technology. United Healthcare is already using big data analytics for detecting identity thefts and medical frauds. As the healthcare system expands with the growing population, the role of big data will assume even more significance in improving patient satisfaction by streamlining the workflow.

Trend #7: Focus on Content Marketing for Consumer Engagement

Adopting digital marketing strategies at voluminous scale is another noticeable trend to have made its presence felt in 2018 in the digital healthcare industry. But what forms the crux of any digital marketing strategy is the content. Without engaging content which is tailored to disseminate vital and relevant information to the consumer, it’s almost impossible for any healthcare provider to sustain in a highly competitive market. Content which provides answers rather than raising fresh questions increases engagement and helps convert visitors into existing patients.   

Trend #8: Healthcare Robotics

Last but not the least; robotics has been making steady inroads into the healthcare industry in recent times. Although robots have been part of the healthcare system for over three decades, ranging from small laboratory models to complex ones capable of either performing surgeries autonomously or assisting a human surgeon, the scope for their deployment in medicine has widened only recently. Robots are now also being used for providing aid to people with sensory, cognitive and motor impairments besides supporting caregivers. With almost 20% of the world’s population suffering from some form of impairment, robots are expected to play an even larger role in the years to come. End of life care is another aspect of healthcare which robots are all set to revolutionize. Increasing life expectancy has meant that we now live longer in comparison to the previous generations. Advancements in AI and adopting humanoid design is enabling modern robots to converse and socially interact with humans to rid them of lonliness at the fag end of their lives and helping them remain independent for longer.

Despite the Challenges, Digital Transformation is Here to Stay

Digital transformation is a complicated process especially if we consider a partially holistic and traditional industry like healthcare. While the future of digital technology in healthcare industry is undoubtedly bright, there are certain challenges which need to be overcome. A few key challenges that threaten to derail the process of digital transformation in healthcare include the industry’s resistance to change, apprehensiveness towards the unforeseeable along with meeting ROI and the cost factor which in most cases puts digital transformation projects on the backburner. However, all inhibitions must be shunned before switching over to new technology. A prerequisite to venturing on the path of digital transformation is to change the mindset. There is dire need to come out of the “Why fix it if it ain’t broken?” approach and embrace change with optimism. The need of the hour for the healthcare industry is to stop living in denial as digital transformation is here to stay, period.

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