The trajectory of healthcare technology development was changed radically by the coronavirus pandemic. The disease will continue to shape advances in this industry for the foreseeable future.
Many of the key technologies shaping the field—from artificial intelligence (AI) to the Internet of Things (IoT)—were already having an impact prior to the onset of the pandemic. As a result of COVID-19, however, the trajectory of these innovations has shifted.
Moving into 2021, it is exciting to think about how much these technologies will change, especially considering the leaps that were made during 2020. Also, some new technologies may emerge in 2021, especially those impacted by the creation of the coronavirus vaccine.
Some of the top trends to keep an eye on in 2021 include:
1. Remote treatment
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for telemedicine and helped push many advances that could make care received remotely as good as in the clinic. For minor and routine appointments, telemedicine makes sense. These technologies are likely to continue to develop and facilitate remote treatment.
Telemedicine reduces the risk of spreading infectious disease and can even help providers see more patients in a day. Also, many people are exploring telemedicine as an option for areas with lower numbers of providers.
Moving forward, it seems likely that remote treatment technology starts to merge with robotics and AI so that services can be delivered in people’s homes or even in clinics while still minimizing human contact. In the coming year, it would not be surprising to see robot-like assistants entering the clinic environment to help minimize contact.
2. Smart cities
While people likely do not associate smart cities with healthcare, the pandemic has highlighted how connectivity could prevent similar crises in the future. The term “smart city” refers to digital connectivity and the use of data to make important decisions related to public transportation, trash collection, and even environmental health.
The development of smart cities is closely tied to advances in both AI and IoT. COVID-19 has exposed the potential dangers of living in close proximity and smart cities could play a significant role in community resilience moving forward.
This technology could help identify and contain outbreaks before they become serious issues and even use modeling to help predict when an outbreak could occur. Furthermore, smart cities have a role to play in improving air and water quality to reduce disease related to these environmental factors.
For many years, genomics and its medical applications have been a hot topic. This is not likely to change in 2021, especially given the promise of gene editing. With gene editing, it becomes possible to change the traits of existing cells. Already, gene editing has facilitated significant advances in the treatment of diseases like cancer and muscle disorders.
Genomic and genetic editing have led to the field of precision medicine, which involves customized drugs for a specific person’s genetic profile. These customized drugs can improve efficacy while limiting side effects.
In addition, genomics has facilitated advances in the detection of COVID-19 and is even playing a key role in the development of vaccine technologies. As researchers get a better handle on the potential of this technology, as well as its safe application, it may become a much larger pillar of treatment.
4. Data mining
The field of data mining has exploded with the popularity of social media, but it has several applications to healthcare. In some parts of the world, personal data has helped keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay and individuals are happy to provide it when they know the benefits.
Data mining could also provide better information about who responds to which COVID-19 medications and why, as well as better assess personal risk. AI will also play a role in predicting resource use patterns using patient data.
One of the big applications of data in 2021 may actually relate to healthcare finances. The pandemic has significantly reduced revenue from the American healthcare system as people avoid hospitals and opt out of elective surgeries. Insurance providers may use data to assess risk and needs more fully, which could help create fairer health insurance premiums.
The rise of telemedicine and processes like data mining have raised new questions surrounding privacy as it relates to the delivery of healthcare. Cloud computing has made it easy to store and access information from anywhere, but it has also caused people to ask if it is safe enough for protected health information (PHI).
A number of telehealth companies are not compliant with regulations about PHI. Enforcement of these rules has been less stringent because of the strain caused by coronavirus. However, moving forward, privacy will become a more central concern with compliant systems becoming extremely important.
In addition, providers will begin to demand the ability to communicate with patients in a variety of ways while remaining confident that PHI is protected. These formats including not just video and voice calls, but also convenient forms of communication like text messaging.