5 Trends That Could Improve Healthcare in 2021

AR tools will see a massive boost in 2021 after a year in which its star grew. Here are some more trends that are poised to make 2021 a meaningful year for healthcare.

Covid-19 has impacted all of our lives and forced us to adapt – especially MedTech. Recent MedTech innovations have resulted in better communication and collaboration between medical professionals, improved virtual patient care, and a multitude of medical devices that are saving lives every day.

We’ve witnessed some massive shifts this year to combat the pandemic, and those changes are likely to stick around post-pandemic. As we look into the new year, armed with our 2020 experiences, we can see a few important innovations on the horizon that are shaping the way health care is practiced and delivered. 

1. Telemedicine and telemonitoring help doctors continue NonCovid-19-related treatment
Telemedicine is already well-known in healthcare, and the uptick in use has been readily visible throughout the year as physicians were forced to start making consultations remotely with both colleagues and patients. In 2021, we’ll likely see a shift in telemedicine focus to more fully encompass mental health issues in addition to bodily ailments and illnesses. The demand for mental health services for numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or drug use disorders, are expected to soar, according to a WHO survey. The number of people looking for help with anxiety has increased by 93% from January to September 2020. As such, mental healthcare demands will be a major driving force behind advancing virtual patient-physician consultations over the next year.

Beyond the ability to talk to patients virtually, an accurate diagnosis often requires knowledge of certain parameters. This opened the gate for telemonitoring. For patients with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes, devices and apps have been developed to allow doctors to “check in” on things like blood pressure, blood oxygenation, or blood sugar levels from a distance. These at-home technologies make room for potentially life-saving interventions while isolation restrictions persist.

2. Facilitating Seamless Communication
Instant communication and messaging allow healthcare professionals to communicate according to their needs are required more than ever to meet the quickly changing demands. While internal communication within a hospital is critical and already fairly secure, external communication with neighboring hospitals has become increasingly necessary to treat patients. Healthcare will continue to look to organize itself into bottom-up networks that enable connectivity and collaboration. Flexible communication channels and the networks and contacts made through secure mobile messaging apps for doctors will continue to be indispensable for delivering comprehensive care as we continue to navigate Covid-19 and beyond.

3. User-centered technologies relieve overworked healthcare professionals
Although technology can support healthcare professionals in their work, the current crisis has shown us that during an emergency, humans still take center stage. Technology is only useful if it actually supports healthcare professionals in the work they do. This is why in 2021, we can expect technology innovation that focuses on improving the interactions between humans and machines and systems.

A prime example is Computer-assisted detection and diagnosis (CAD) algorithms and their ability to execute highly specialized tasks like cancer detection faster and with greater precision than individual professionals. This is useful in imaging-heavy domains, like radiology or pathology, and helps doctors to initiate treatments faster. As people age and require more complex care, we will need tools like CAD algorithms that can help us to be more efficient with a smaller healthcare force.

4. Augmented reality enables remote treatment
With the onset of the pandemic and the difficulties with transport and travel, being able to provide treatment remotely became more important than ever. This is why Augmented Reality (AR) solutions are witnessing a massive boom right now. AR can be used in anything from scanners for detecting a patient’s vein for intravenous injections to smart glasses that display patient data during surgeries. Understaffed and overwhelmed departments will be able to work more effectively and efficiently with AR support, so we can expect development to continue even beyond the pandemic.

5. Healthcare will operate in networks instead of silos
Communication can be the most dangerous procedure in the hospital given Covid-19, but constant communication with colleagues is the only way to ensure that everything goes according to plan. Right now, Covid-19 has provided healthcare with the perfect proving grounds for secure, mobile networks.

We quickly realized that healthcare professionals relied on secure networks that were both secure and fast-acting, and supportive of the creation and adoption of regional networks all across the Netherlands in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to connect GPs, public health departments, and specialists to ensure rapid communication of new policies and protocols. The number of Covid-specific treatment groups has jumped to over 300 in March 2020, and in Germany they are facilitating ICU-specific groups to address the recent spikes in cases across the country. Bringing all members from different layers of healthcare together will continue to be immensely valuable as we look to quickly transfer information from one expert and healthcare professional to another. 

How can we prepare for a better 2021?
This year taught us that flexibility and adaptability are key to ensuring high standards of healthcare. How can we incorporate that into the technology we develop? Investing in the end goal—saving lives—is always our priority, and to achieve this we need to focus more on creating tools that can be adopted quickly because they are simple, easy to use, and entirely user-centric. Digital tools and services that put healthcare professionals at the center of their platforms are sure to grow in 2021, and we look forward to seeing what comes out.

Photo: Irina Tiumentseva, Getty Images

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