January 10, 2022
Envisioning what the healthcare industry may hold for us in 2022 feels like a daunting task. There are so many forces at work – mostly pandemic-related – that it can seem like a very uncertain future. While there will be plenty of surprises, I’m sure, I think we have a lot of strong evidence for a few trends that are really taking hold which we can expect to continue in the new year.
For one, digital health tools – especially tools that support remote care – are going to continue to gain traction, proliferate and become commonplace. For those of us who have been in the industry for a few decades, we have seen a number of technologies heralded as breakthroughs, but then remain on the sidelines (e.g. telehealth, remote patient monitoring, personal health apps and devices with real clinical connections, and much more sophisticated digital consumer interaction). These technologies have been around for a long time, quietly maturing and becoming better understood, but, until now, have languished, or at least failed to really catch on.
There are a lot of reasons why these digital tools have had such slow adoption over the years, most to do with fear of change and defense of the status quo. Practices and hospitals have feared that telehealth would cut into more profitable face-to-face care. IT vendors have feared that interoperability and portability would erode competitive edges. Payers have feared that major technology upgrades would cut onto profits and expose them to potential downtime, inefficiencies and compliance problems. Despite all of the grief and disruption the pandemic has wrought, one thing we can thank it for is finally pushing all of these constituencies out of their comfort zone and into the digital future.
More than the need to handle huge influxes of COVID patients and test-seekers; more than the need to somehow carry on essential care in the middle of that onslaught; more than the need to protect patients and caregivers from infection: I think it is the human resource crisis above all that is driving these organizations to fully embrace technology solutions. Already understaffed in key areas at the start of the pandemic, burn-out, illness, early retirements and insufficient supply of new providers have made digital augmentation of the healthcare workforce a clear imperative. Improving efficiency has long been a nice-to-have marginal benefit for healthcare organizations, but is now an existential requirement.
The understaffing of healthcare will be a major factor in 2022 and for many years to come. What that will mean for the industry this year is more aggressive investment in digital technologies that streamline care and operations, while continuing to improve quality and experience. Care will continue to push out from the hospital and into the community, and ideally the home, with solutions that support treating patients remotely continuing to roll out, especially in rural communities. Smarter interactions with healthcare consumers will also continue to be a big focus, with providers and payers working on their interoperability, analytics, AI and digital communications games. These organizations will start to really be able to meet consumers where they are, recognize them, and interact intelligently with them based on accurate and robust clinical, financial and social profiles.
The pandemic surely has a few more surprises in store for us before it tails off into background noise, as the epidemiologists assure us it eventually will. The Omicron variant, for all of the fear and illness it is causing, may show a silver lining by spreading lower-mortality infection very rapidly through the global population and getting us closer to herd-immunity, or at least herd-tolerance. As we make our way toward our post-Covid future, maybe there is a digital health upside as well and hopefully we will have a few lasting benefits to build on.