Since its onset, COVID-19 has been the focal point of recent healthcare innovation and advancement. Though the past couple of years have been filled with innumerable advancements of health technologies, much opportunity for reevaluating, reimagining, and reinventing the future of healthcare remains. The next two years will set the scope for what is to come.
As our world successfully transitions from a pandemic to endemic stage, the landscape of healthcare innovation is wide-open for disruption, as health, wellness, and healthcare are taken more fundamentally into the digital age. Advancing technology will be the vigorous driver behind a much needed refocusing of healthcare delivery to put the patient experience and navigation of health services back where it belongs front and center.
What we can expect—at least in the near-term future—is more digital transformation, more cloud, more integration, more automation, and overall a more coherent, consistent, and comprehensive delivery of healthcare.
Though the endless number of possibilities are inspiring, here are six areas where I foresee the most disruption occurring:
1. Integrating Health Technology and Big Technology: In the past, the merger between these two entities has been subject to many false starts. Big tech companies have been running at health technologies as quickly as they can, but last year we saw this trend finally take hold. Oracle
2. Refocusing on Consumer Wellness Products: Consumer retail wellness products have taken off. A recent report claimed consumer spending has increased across wellness retail products, stating, “US consumer spending on wellness categories including fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep, and mindfulness, is increasing, as about 40% of US consumers consider these categories to be a high priority.” The pandemic certainly helped to grow this space, especially for health technology companies that targeted individual wellness such as Peloton, Oura, and Headspace. This disruption appears to be here to stay, at least for the near future.
3. Doubling Down on “Click and Mortar” Hybrid Models: The pandemic made virtual health a necessity, and, as patients gained experience with this delivery model, virtual care has become a preferred method for many. In February the Department of Health and Human Services contributed $55 million to increase adoption and utilization of virtual health and reimagining how traditionally underserved populations access care. Virtual and In-Person hybrid models—dubbed “click and mortar” models—combine the benefits of virtual with in-person care, depending on the level of specific need at any given time. This allows for healthcare to be delivered when and where it is needed, reducing patient burden both from a convenience and cost perspective. Ultimately, this reimagining of healthcare delivery results in more accessible, personalized medicine and a better patient journey.
4. Revolutionizing Home Care: Inspired by the success of virtual care, the ability to offer patients treatment from the comfort of their own homes is revolutionizing quality of care and accessibility. This is especially true for Medicare fee-for services and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, who, during the pandemic, were able to transfer many of their needed services out of healthcare facilities and into the home. It is a trend that is only growing, and, in the next three years, it is estimated this demographic will transfer nearly $265 billion worth of healthcare services to home settings. This reinvention of services is centered on quality and comfort, minimizing transportation and other access barriers, and outsourcing many clinical services from hospital buildings.
5. Accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Automation: Like the merging of health tech with big tech, AI in healthcare historically has been overhyped. But, its time, too, has come. AI and automation allow for health systems and practitioners to remove the tasks that humans do not have to do, such as patient monitoring, scribing, and many administrative duties. I foresee this having the most impact on administrative costs, which are at least 15% of our total healthcare expenditure in the U.S. (and this rate is growing 2.5 times faster than for comparable countries). Moreover, over half of our administrative costs are considered as waste. AI is already making a difference in reducing labor intensive tasks that contribute to burnout and in speeding up imaging processing to deliver faster care. There is a real opportunity here to make our healthcare system more efficient and affordable, and the tandem of AI and automation will fuel this disruption.
6. Building More Sustainable Healthcare Systems: Climate change is being heavily contributed to by the very entity we turn to when suffering climate-related illness—healthcare systems. Our healthcare sector in the U.S. has been one of climate change’s greatest accelerators: it is responsible for nearly 7,000 tons of waste a day, and for 10% of our country’s carbon emissions and 9% of air pollutants. Collectively, our healthcare sector is the 13th largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world. Innovation of the healthcare industry will result in a reevaluation, reimagining, and reinvention of sustainable efforts to protect patient health beyond the examination room. Kaiser Permanente is a leader in this field right now, having been carbon neutral since 2020 and aiming to be “carbon net positive” by 2025. They estimate their efforts are equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off our roads a year. We will see more and more players pledging carbon neutrality over the next few years.
The future of healthcare is undoubtedly more patient-focused, more virtual, more automated, and more environmentally minded. Disruption will see a necessary doubling down on investment in technologies and organizations dedicated to reimagining a more affordable, more convenient, more sustainable, and more comprehensive patient journey. At the end of the day, this is what healthcare is all about: making sure that we are providing the patients we serve with the best care possible.
Health reimaginings and reinventions are ripe with opportunities that will better quality of care and outcomes for all patients, allowing each and every one of us to live better, more fulfilling lives. The six areas above are worth paying attention to, setting the landscape as we all work in our own ways to improve health and wellbeing.