The US healthcare industry continues to evolve as cutting-edge technology introduces new methods of delivering patient care and support. By investing in the latest tech, healthcare providers are working to meet the demands placed on them by a younger, increasingly-influential demographic.

An Accenture study of more than 2,000 consumers shows millennials and Gen Zers want access to more and more digital healthcare (such as electronic prescriptions and online services), due to their dissatisfaction with traditional models. North America dominates the electronic prescription industry, too, while its healthcare IT market is set to reach $104.3bn by 2020.

But new innovations emerge regularly, so which healthcare technology trends will impact the industry in the coming year (and beyond)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) for Real-time Health Monitoring

IoT is helping to transform the way in which patients and healthcare providers connect, according to a recent report by Becker’s Hospital Review. Wearable devices, for example, allow people of all ages and lifestyles to record real-time data related to their health status.

For example, someone with a heart condition can gather data on their resting heart rate and provide their physician with days’ worth of valuable information.

In at least one case, a fitness tracker has saved the wearer’s life: a 39 year-old man noticed his calorie-consumption and heart activity was far different than usual. This prompted him to see a doctor—and he found himself receiving treatment for a defective heart valve soon after.

Healthcare providers can use data pulled from wearable devices to form a more comprehensive picture of a patient’s condition in their everyday life, rather than relying on tests performed in a controlled environment.

The global market for wearable medical devices is expected to grow by 24.7 percent per year through 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights research, becoming a $139,353.6 million market.

Virtual Healthcare Connects Patients and Physicians 24/7

Accenture’s research found 39 percent of millennials are more interested in virtual healthcare than traditional models. This is unsurprising when this age group is two or three times more likely to be unhappy with appointment times and treatment locations than baby boomers.

At the same time, virtual healthcare is solving some of the challenges facing healthcare today. The Urgent Care Association of America estimates about 7,100 urgent care centers in the United States. In 2014, each individual urgent care center averaged about 14,000 visits, which breaks down to about 50 per day and 4 per hour.

Virtual healthcare will meet that challenge by enabling patients to see providers even when they cannot get to an urgent care center, according to Connecticut nurse practitioner Margaret Spera.

That’s because visiting an online doctor has gotten easy. Video conferencing technology allows patients to interact with physicians face-to-face in real-time. It’s more intimate and engaging than a conversation over the phone, but crucially, it’s easier for the patient to present physical symptoms than trying to describe them.

As a result, an online doctor can make an accurate diagnosis and deliver informed guidance for self-care. Patients leveraging video-chat technology can expect the same standard of experience as with an in-person appointment, with far greater convenience.

They can access professional healthcare treatment and advice wherever they have an internet connection, through their smartphone.

Increased Reliance on Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The mere mention of AI is enough to inspire dread in some people, conjuring images of humanity’s subjugation at the hands of machines. But AI is taking on great importance to the healthcare industry and could help save lives in the future.

In a study by OptumlQ, more than 90 percent of healthcare leaders admitted their organizations are investing in AI and the majority of hospital executives expect to see a solid ROI on AI within four years of implementing it. These organizations are expected to invest more than $32m each in AI over the next five years (on average).

They agreed that “AI technology is the most reliable path toward accessible and affordable healthcare.”

For the most part, implementing AI means automating administrative work and reducing the prevalence of fraud or resource-waste. But it’s expected to prove effective in other areas, too, according to analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, including achieving more accurate diagnoses by reducing human error and identifying key traits shared by patients affected by diseases like Ebola.

Widespread Adoption of Data Analytics

More than 84 percent of US healthcare organizations have embraced data analytics, gathering information that lets them identify and implement improvements across different areas.

Data analytics is enhancing financial, operational and clinical processes due to organizations favoring quality over quantity.

“As healthcare organizations move to value-based payment models, [they’re] finding that focusing on clinical metrics, including readmission rates, infection control, and patient outcome improvements is critical for success,” according to George Dealy, Dimensional Insight’s Vice President of Healthcare Solutions.

Implementing data analytics will continue to empower healthcare providers with actionable information related to all aspects of their operations. Organizations can streamline services, identify gaps in patient care/experience and cater to diverse needs more effectively.

Advanced Cybersecurity Measures to Safeguard Patient Data

Cybersecurity poses a real risk to healthcare providers — and their patients’ wellbeing. In October 2019, three Alabama hospitals were paralyzed by ransomware attacks so severe they were forced to turn people seeking care away.

Ransomware is just one cybersecurity threat with the potential to disrupt organizations, so it’s no surprise to see investment in this area is expected to exceed $65bn by the end of 2021.

Effective cybersecurity protection is critical to prevent patients’ access to healthcare becoming compromised and sensitive medical data falling into the wrong hands. North America’s healthcare cybersecurity market is the biggest, thanks to the “sophisticated” collaboration between technological innovators and healthcare organizations.

Improvements in access management, compliance & risk management, antivirus, DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) mitigation and intrusion detection are expected in the coming year.

These five healthcare technology trends for 2020 and beyond highlight just how exciting and transformative tech-innovations continue to be.

It’s not just about building a shinier or faster device, or making websites work a little faster: it’s about delivering better patient care, improving the quality of medical treatment and boosting the accessibility of healthcare on a global scale.

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