9 Trends For 2021

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What are the long-term trends that will shape the digital health market in 2021? In this video I’ve summarized some significant shifts to be expected following industry reports, interviews I made, and articles published in reputable health magazines.

After watching the movie, join the discussion on LinkedIn and leave your comment. Please note that this home-made video was shot on a smartphone (and there are some small crackles in the sound).

Telecare will gain traction over time

COVID-19 is the first global pandemic in the digital age. “Never waste a good crisis,” said once Winston Churchill. Many healthcare technology developers seem to make the most of the sudden increase in demand for digital solutions. This is a time when digital solution providers can prove the value of their innovations.

In 2021 we can expect further expansion of telemedicine. Patients, doctors, and decision-makers have discovered that telecare is easy to implement and doesn’t require costly investments in hardware or software. In some cases, it can supplement or even replace onsite visits. This is a part of a more significant tendency – healthcare becomes available where the patient is. According to Rock Health, on-demand healthcare services were the most funded value propositions in 2020.

In one of Forbes‘ articles, we can read: “As patients increasingly prefer virtual tools, digital self-enrollment capabilities, such as scheduling an appointment, providing healthcare/insurance information, and receiving pre- and post-appointment communications online, will be in increasing demand. Additionally, remote monitoring technology for both active and passive healthcare consumers will likely gain traction over time.”

Telemedicine still far from what it can do

But lets’ be honest: telemedicine in the present form is rather “medicine over the phone or Internet.” In most cases, it’s just a conversation between a doctor and a patient.

No matter if we call it “telemedicine 2.0” or “deep telemedicine,” the existing standards must change. Otherwise, the lack of added value will push telecare into the trouble that electronic medical records face. The New Yorker already described two years ago why doctors hate their computers. “Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are screens coming between doctors and patients?” – this headline may also refer to telemedicine.

Digitization (including telemedicine) promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are screens coming between doctors and patients? Source: “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers (The New Yorker)

Virtual medicine shyly enters the hospitals

Virtual reality will also gain importance. VR in healthcare is believed to work well in pain relief and treating certain mental diseases. The market will grow to 2.4 billion dollars by 2026. If you want to explore the power of virtual medicine, I recommend the recently published book “VRx: How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine.” The author – Brennan Spiegel, Director of Health Services Research for Cedars-Sinai Health System – gives examples of many VR applications. This revolutionary new kind of care has no side effects and can be surprisingly effective.

New connector with the patients: national and regional health platforms

There is also a dynamic development of national or local health platforms providing patients with access to electronic health records, allowing them to manage their own health. These platforms help facilitate personalized prevention programs and the communication between the patient and healthcare settings or public health institutions. How it’s important, we’ve seen during the pandemic. Health platforms will also play a central role in population health; they can transform the system from chaotic care to continuous, holistic, and coordinated care, improving patients’ experience.

Digital health meets public health

In recent months, public health institutions have also increasingly used digital solutions, such as contact tracking apps. Wold Health Organisation has issued “The Digital implementation investment guide: integrating digital interventions into health systems,” which only confirms the marriage between public health and digital health. This is something completely new. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that dealing with health threats requires international cooperation. Yet, epidemiological surveillance is not possible without digitalization – and there is still much to do to make data exchange working.

AI has great potential, but the noise around it doesn’t help

Impressive progress is being made in artificial intelligence. According to the forecasts, the AI-powered systems market in healthcare will exceed 34 billion dollars by 2025. AI algorithms will be applied more often in the development of diagnostic systems, precision medicine, genomics, and the development of new drugs. Artificial intelligence will help people to lead a personalized lifestyle, predict diseases earlier and live longer. It will accelerate medical research and speed up clinical studies. Following an article published in NATURE, in September 2020, there were 29 FDA-approved artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for applications in healthcare. More details you can find in the paper “The state of artificial intelligence-based FDA-approved medical devices and algorithms: an online database” published in Nature.

29 FDA-approved, AI/ML-based medical technologies. Source: The state of artificial intelligence-based FDA-approved medical devices and algorithms: an online database (Nature)

Digital global cooperation

Regarding international cooperation in digital health, Europe is at the forefront. European Commission wants to intensify the investments in developing the infrastructure for the cross-border exchange of health data. In February 2020, the Commission presented two strategic documents: “The European Data Strategy” and “White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – A European approach to excellence and trust.” The so-called European Health Data Space, one of the planned initiatives under the new data strategy, should promote better exchange and access to different health data types to support healthcare delivery, health research and health policy-making purposes.

Internet of Medical Things: background character of the future

With no surprise, the Internet of Medical Things will continue to grow. “Healthcare present in every aspect of life” is one of the trends suggested by Forbes magazine in the article “The 5 Biggest Healthcare Trends In 2021 Everyone Should Be Ready For Today“. The author claims that in 2020, every company has had to become a tech company as data and computing have become essential to everything we do. “In 2021, every company will learn to become a healthcare company, too, as safeguarding employees and customers becomes a core requirement of doing business,” we can read in Forbes.

Health care systems welcome symptom checkers

When doctors’ offices stayed closed during the lockdown, many countries had launched symptom checkers to support patients worried about COVID-related symptoms. Since then, chatbots and AI-powered health services have got wind in the wings. They can reduce the number of unnecessary medical visits and reduce the administrative burden on doctors. According to the latest Deloitte’s report, “Digital transformation – Shaping the future of European healthcare,” Europe is expected to be short of 4.1 million healthcare workers by 2030. Overworked staff face burnout. Around a third of European clinicians think of leaving their profession. This problem also must be addressed as soon as possible to address the growing imbalance between supply and demand for medical services.

Digital therapeutics gain new energy

And finally, 2020 has boosted digital therapeutics since a new law – Digital Healthcare Act – allows German doctors to prescribe mobile apps that successfully pass the application process. Digital health application manufacturers get reimbursed by the German statutory health insurers (read more in “A Guide for Manufacturers, Service Providers and Users“). By the end of the year, already nine apps were approved. Will other countries follow this digital-friendly law?

The first ten applications can be prescribed by physicians and psychotherapists and are reimbursed by health insurers (as of the end of 2020). The German Digital Healthcare Act (Digitale-Versorgung-Gesetz, DVG) introduced the “app on prescription” as part of healthcare provided to patients. Click here to check the updated list.

And what do you think: what can we expect in 2021 regarding digital health?

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