6 digital health trends for the New Year

After a year defined by unpredictability, it may seem like a waste of time to anticipate what 2021 will bring.

After all, no one could have forecast the total digital revolution that has taken the health care field by storm over the past 10 months or so. In an industry that has traditionally resisted digital innovation, the transition to virtual care and consumer adoption of telehealth, which skyrocketed by 400% in the period between the close of 2019 and April 2020, has surprised even the savviest prognosticators.

You could argue that ten years worth of change has taken place in less than a year, and in many ways, health care is all but unrecognizable from what it was in March 2020.

Whatever else the new year may bring, it seems clear that digital health is here to stay, with health systems continuing to lean on virtual solutions even as the threat of the pandemic is neutralized by vaccine distribution. Here are six things you can expect to see as health care navigates the new normal.

Big tech, Big everything getting into health care. Or will they?

Amazon, Alphabet and Apple all made deals in 2019 to purchase digital health startups, and those health care arms saw rapid growth this year, along with those from other Big Tech companies like Zoom and Microsoft jumping in with new health care products and features. Partnerships between Big Tech and health care organizations dominated the newswire, and subtrend mergers and acquisitions activity has picked up and will continue to.  But how will the recent announcement that Haven will disband after just three years impact this trend?

Related: Mitigating health care costs in 2021 hinges on the right digital shopping tools

Additionally, Big Tech has been in the news for other reasons recently, as leading execs have come under scrutiny for data, privacy and security issues — most recently testifying before the House Antitrust Subcommittee for an investigation into misuse of data, among other concerns — significant concerns for the health care field.

Beyond telemedicine

Telemedicine was the finger in the dyke at the beginning of pandemic panic to keep the dam from breaking, with health care providers grabbing whatever came to hand, encouraged by relaxed HIPAA regulations. But as the dust settles, telemedicine is emerging as the commodity that it is, and value-add services are going to be the differentiating factors in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Offerings like remote patient monitoring and asynchronous communication, initially considered “nice-to-haves,” are becoming standard offerings as health care providers see their value for continuous care beyond COVID.

Workflow is king…and queen, and the whole Royal Family?

I can’t emphasize it enough: COVID sent digital health adoption into overdrive. Late majority adopters essentially free-fell into digital health, without the typical months-long implementation timeline. Providers are looking for solutions that will seamlessly and quickly incorporate into their human workflows. An inferior product with a better workflow will always win out over its superiors, and that is a guarantee you can take to the bank. We’re going to see product offerings with more and easier integrations, while talk of API, HL7, FHIR, app stores, and marketplaces will continue.

More money, more problems

If this year is any indication, 2021 will be the biggest in health care funding to date. Pre-COVID-19, the total annual revenue of U.S. telehealth players was an estimated $3 billion, with the largest vendors focused on virtual urgent care, according to the most recent McKinsey report. The report estimates that telehealth will represent a share up to $250 billion this year. That’s 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial outpatient, office, and home health. We’re going to see more IPO, roll-ups and VC activity.

It’s a double-edged sword. This could put the digital health care industry at risk of overheating and creating a bubble (if there isn’t one already) that is set to burst.

Payers pay and providers provide

As policy-makers roll back previous expansions for digital health reimbursement, payers are going to start looking for other mechanisms by which to reimburse and adopt digital health care that are outside of the normal CPT and billing models. Relieved from financial pressures, providers will be able to refocus their energy on delivering high quality care in a real-time manner with the aid of IoT and remote monitoring solutions.

One thing we can say for sure going into 2021: Health care will never be the same after COVID-19. The only thing we can predict with certainty is that life in the new decade is going to be defined by the ways in which we respond to the unpredictable.

Anish Sebastian is the CEO of Babyscripts.

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