The view of futurist Michael Rogers, expressed at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum in October 2018, seems almost quaint in retrospect: He said then that he foresees “massive vertical consolidation” in the sector in the late 2020s.
Now, two years later, we see that he was not only prescient but actually understating things. For not only has a “Big Data revolution” and “digital transformation” arrived (as he predicted in a podcast shortly before his appearance at the forum), but it has been significantly hastened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Simply put, healthcare professionals, faced with the daunting challenges COVID-19 has presented, have needed digital solutions more than ever. They need remote monitors like EarlySense to ease their workflows. They need telehealth platforms, which make socially distant diagnoses possible. And they need electronic medical records as much as ever.
Undoubtedly, the revolution is here, even earlier than Rogers might have anticipated. One study indicated that spending on healthcare information technology alone is expected to climb from $227.5 billion in 2020 to $270.3 billion in 2021, largely because of the pandemic. And a McKinsey report noted in May that digital adoption has “vaulted five years forward … in a matter of around eight weeks.”
The Time is Now
Even before the pandemic, healthcare CEOs had a firm understanding of the impact wearables and robotics were having, and how much greater it will be in the years ahead. It was also clear that predictive (and proactive) analytics were the wave of the future, and that cybersecurity will prove to be more important than ever before.
Indeed, CEOs in all fields long ago reached the realization that we are approaching the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the melding of physical, digital and biological technologies will lead to greater and greater challenges for those leading businesses. Bill Thomas, Global Chairman for Amsterdam-based KPMG International, one of the Big Four accounting firms, wrote in January 2019 that over 70 percent of the 1,300 CEOs surveyed by his company agreed that it is high time for their businesses to undergo a digital transformation.
Intuition Still Matters
It is interesting to note, however, that virtually that same number -- 70 percent -- admitted in the same poll that they had gone with their gut while making a decision in the previous three years, as opposed to trusting in what the data told them. Clearly, then, there are strides to be made in changing the mindset within the C-Suite.
That is true among the rank and file as well. The Harvard Business Review noted in 2018 that employees often fear that change of any kind will fundamentally alter the company as they know it -- that it will no longer be the place with which they have identified. As a result, it is critical for a leader to stress that the organization’s mission and values will remain unchanged.
It is expected that the healthcare IT market will be worth nearly $400 billion by 2024, as continued strides are made in such areas as the Internet of Things (IoT) -- specifically as it pertains to wearables and sensors that track vital signs and movement -- as well as data, 3-D printing (of prosthetics and the like), and natural language processing (for clinical notes, etc.). Lesser progress is expected in machine learning and blockchain, but they too remain part of the picture.
Over two quintillion bytes of data is churned out every day, and physician-scientist Daniel Kraft, writing for National Geographic, noted the impact of wearables in the collection of information. He sees the next step as being hearing aids and earbuds with embedded sensors, smart contact lenses, even electronic tattoos. It is also not out of the question, he writes, that implants will be developed that will enable healthcare professionals to track the well-being of patients, allowing potential concerns to be nipped in the bud
Rogers, in his talk at the Big Data and Analytics Forum, said he can foresee a time in the next decade when patients go not to doctors’ offices but rather diagnostic booths in schools, drugstores and the like. These booths would be equipped with sensors and chatbots, as well as high-definition video screens that will allow a person to communicate with a doctor remotely.
Creating that much more data will, of course, bring added security and privacy concerns. Some 2.65 million patient records were exposed in 2018 alone, and down the line Accenture cybersecurity head Reza Chapman advises a constant reevaluation of security strategies and a proactive approach to breaches -- i.e., sharing information with consumers as soon as possible, etc. -- as a study showed that half of them typically find out about such things on their own, and that a quarter of them respond by changing healthcare providers.
Security will always be a concern, as hackers are forever looking for new and different ways to access sensitive information, and CEOs would do well to take heed. But overall, digital developments in the healthcare space are promising, and some have arrived even faster than originally expected.
Rogers said in the aforementioned podcast that “the mantra of the future will be low-cost delivery, quantified outcomes and maximized quality.” In a great many cases, the future is now. A healthcare crisis of historic proportions has made it so.