Accelerating Innovation in Healthcare Industry using Digital Technologies

The increased digitization of healthcare in the United States and abroad is  being stimulated by federal mandates, cost savings, and innovations in technology. It is also being spurred by the need to improve clinical outcomes and efficiency and improve communications among providers, patients and payers. Telehealth, cloud enabled data management platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) assisted medical devices, and block chain for electronic health records are a few examples of digital transformation in healthcare.

Tremendous opportunities for innovation exist in the healthcare industry if leaders choose to implement digital strategies for innovation. In a recent survey, only seven percent of healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations said they had gone digital, compared to 15 percent of companies in other industries. Given that the U.S. healthcare market spending is projected to reach $5.7 trillion by 2026, there are significant opportunities to implement cost saving strategies using digitization techniques.

Going forward, digital health technologies are expected to play a more active role in the healthcare ecosystem. As Covid-19 surges, we see an upswing in the usage of digital epidemiology tools, chatbot assistants, AI applications, Electronic Health Record (EHR)  guidance tools and rapid response test kits. Also, the pandemic has forced the stakeholders to  implement telehealth to interact with patients. Digital technologies are also playing a key role in mental healthcare  resulting from social distancing protocols. Technology will play an important part in relieving anxiety and supporting mental health.

Rise in Telehealth:

The traditional model of a patient personally visiting a doctor for consultation and receiving a prescription, visiting a neighborhood pharmacy, and returning for follow up care or prescription refills has become outdated. Not only is it time-consuming and inefficient, but also, costly to patients, and discourages many from seeking much needed medical care. As a result, the U.S. healthcare system is primed for a massive disruption thanks to the emergence of a direct-to-consumer telehealth model supported by innovative technologies. Covid-19 has only accelerated the adoption and growth of telehealth. With social distancing protocols in place until a  viable vaccine is found, telehealth represents a suitable option as it provides critical care to the patients while keeping healthcare providers safe. A new report from Frost & Sullivan suggests that due to Covid-19, its uptake will increase by 64.3% nationwide this year..

For non-urgent/routine care and situations that do not necessitate direct provider-patient interaction, Telehealth solutions offer several advantages such as reduced resource use, improved access to care, and minimized risk of transmission. Direct-to-consumer telehealth companies now offer patients immediate and virtual treatment from licensed physicians, along with home delivery of prescription medications bundled with over-the-counter wellness products. Online diagnosis and treatment of patients; and the associated pharmacy business will fundamentally change the nation’s $3.5 trillion healthcare market. This shift will be driven by the demonstrated ability of telehealth services and online pharmacies while improving access to healthcare and reducing costs for millions of Americans.

Using customized virtual care solutions, providers can remotely identify patients who may require further escalation of care. With this in mind, regulatory bodies are promoting telehealth. The US Congress passed an $8.3 billion Covid-19 response spending bill, which will allow Medicare to provide telehealth services to seniors regardless of where they live at an estimated cost of $500 million. Additionally, in April 2020, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) developed and approved a $200 million program to fund telehealth services and devices for medical providers. The private sector is also following suit. For instance, Philips Healthcare announced a potential telehealth solution to manage increased patient inflow using online screening, follow-up questionnaires, monitoring, and external call center collaborations.

Increased need for big data analytics:

The acquisition and availability of data from many sources, combined with radical improvements in IT technology, have led to the utilization of ‘big data’ for analysis. Sophisticated software analysis systems are now using deep learning/AI to identify (1) the best treatment outcomes for patients with specific diseases/conditions and specific symptoms; (2) Identifying ideal customer thereby helping healthcare marketing and sales teams; (3) Pharma majors manipulate big data to helps them understand the market and enhance drug development. In the near term, big data can provide several important operational benefits, including: 1. Lower rate of medication errors; 2. Facilitating Preventive care; 3. More Accurate Staffing.

It is important for the focus to be on the right big data in order for us to have an impact on health outcomes. With disparate systems with multitude of datatypes and formats, it is important to identify and aggregate data that impacts physical and mental health. Going forward, we need innovative solutions that make it possible for the stakeholders to disseminate data to improve the outcomes of the patients. Stakeholders have an obligation and opportunity to expand the view of what the “right” data is and how we collect it. By applying a thoughtful approach to big data analysis, we will be better able to predict optimal treatment for an individual earlier in the process. Through these efforts, we have the potential to achieve positive, quality health outcome at a cost point that’s sustainable.

Maturing AI & Machine Learning tools:

AI & (Machine Learning) ML are more than just a digital transformation trend in healthcare. AI represents the epitome of medical innovation and is attracting industry players eager to invest millions. The healthcare AI-powered tools market is expected to exceed $34 billion by 2025, which means this technology will shape almost all facets of the industry.

Chatbots and virtual health assistants are the primary AI-based technology that interact with patients.From customer service to diagnostic tools and even as virtual therapists, Chatbots perform important roles in the care continuum. Their importance and reach is being translated into heavy investments with the global market projected to increase from $122 million to $314.3 million by 2023. But, the real power of AI lies in  precision medicine, medical imaging, drug discovery, and genomics. For instance, with AI’s sophisticated pattern recognition, cancer patients have access to personalized therapies tailored to their genetic makeup and lifestyle. In oncology, AI-powered computer programs analyze thousands of pathology images of various cancers to provide highly accurate diagnoses and predict the best possible anti-cancer drug combinations. And, in medical imaging diagnostics, this technology helps radiologist’s spot details that escape the human eye. Major life sciences companies are using ML algorithms to shorten the drug development cycle. Recent research shows that AI helps to reduce early drug discovery timelines by four years against the industry average, and generate cost savings of 60 percent. Overall, AI is predicted to bring $150 billion dollars in annual savings for the US healthcare economy by 2026. Startups are already jumping on this opportunity; the number of active AI startups has increased 14-fold since 2000.

Covid 19 and Digital Health

With the pandemic raging, the demand for healthcare services and technologies has reached an all-time high. Digital tools and services such as chatbots, robots, telehealth, and big data analytics are being set up to collect information, patient education, treat patients, perform diagnoses, and even prepare future vaccines.  For instance, China has deployed a new AI-based diagnostic tool capable of detecting infections. In the US, the adoption of healthcare chatbots has also increased. Sheba Medical Center in Israel has applied telehealth solutions for quarantined patients and deployed remote monitoring of treatment protocols. Furthermore, connected healthcare technology using digitally connected Internet of Things (IOT) devices has allowed healthcare providers to monitor and track patient’s health. The rapid spread of this disease has driven the demand for connected medical devices for vital signs monitoring. Capsule Technologies has deployed its ‘Capsule COVID19 Program’ platform to capture streaming data on ventilated patients, remotely monitor patients, and remotely check the respiratory status of ventilated patients.

The value of digital technologies is even more critical as the growing number of cases increases the burden on the global healthcare system. According to a recent study published in the Health Affairs journal, it was found that the spread of the virus could cost the US healthcare ecosystem a few hundreds of billions of dollars in direct medical expenses and require resources on a much larger scale than what is currently available. The successful adoption and implementation of digital solutions such as utilization management tools, quality management tools could provide significant savings to healthcare systems worldwide.

Looking Ahead:

This might be the decade when digital technology reshapes the healthcare ecosystem. While the evolution of digital health is happening at a swift pace, we need to constantly ascertain ways to promulgate the change in a positive manner that will benefit patients and providers alike. Education and awareness of the opportunities and challenges of digital health are key to staying ahead of the curve and guiding patients through this change. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the  impetus to accelerate the use of digital solutions in the healthcare space. The imperative is on the digital health community to utilize digital health to bolster public health measures. Globally, governments and the private sector are demonstrating  how digital health solutions address the everyday needs of payers, providers and patients. As we move forward, challenges around regulatory and reimbursement environments, scalability, data governance and impacting health outcomes remain to be solved for the future of digital powered healthcare.


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