The healthcare industry remains largely unpredictable. How the nation will regulate healthcare going forward is an ongoing and ever-changing debate. At the same time, scientists continue to make huge strides in medicine and treatments, and you never know what new invention will come next. The way in which providers interact with patients and deliver care is changing. Even the way in which providers are paid is shifting. All of this change is a result of people trying to improve healthcare in the United States. More importantly, though, most of this change is because of the innovative technology that never stops reinventing the way we do things in all aspects of our lives. With all of this unpredictability, it is both exciting and unnerving. Despite all of the uncertainty, when we look at healthcare trends for 2019, there are a few things we can point to and say – that’s what’s coming next. And, what better source for predicting the future of healthcare in our country than where it originally starts – the learning centers where prospective providers are training. A few educators from a private college, the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences (which offers degrees from associate to doctoral) gave us the lowdown on what they’re predicting for next year. After chatting with them, here are the top seven healthcare trends for 2019.
Seven Healthcare Technology Trends for 2019
The seven healthcare technology trends for 2019 that we’re predicting involve electronic medical records, blockchain systems, telemedicine, and artificial intelligence, to name a few. Let’s delve in!
1 – Electronic Medical Records or EMRs
The first trend to talk about is Electronic Medical Records. Now, you’re probably thinking – Electronic Medical Records or EMR, aren’t new. So, how is this the first of the healthcare trends for 2019? Well, as most health systems across the country adopt the use of Electronic Medical Records, we’re finally seeing the benefits of having medical records available digitally. For example, Electronic Medical Records are more than just having patients’ records available in digital format. Not only do they ensure that providers have all patient records immediately available to them, but the records in an electronic format open the door for providers across all systems of care to communicate and share that information. This ensures that whoever is treating the patient at any given moment has all of the patient’s medical history at their fingertips. This technology allows providers to make better decisions about patient care. Although these records have been around for some time, it took a lot of time for many healthcare systems across the country to implement this technology. Now that more healthcare systems are using it, in 2019, we can expect to see more of the ways that this technology can improve patient care long-term. Most specifically, identifying patterns in patient care and recognizing the most effective treatment plans. Electronic Medical Records continue to be one of the biggest technological forces driving advancement in health care, according to Dr. Kimberly Johnston, vice president of academic affairs at the PA College of Health Sciences.
“Though most major systems have adopted the EMR by this point, we are just starting to scratch the surface of how this integrated technology can make patient care more streamlined and efficient,” Johnston said.
2 – Blockchain Systems
Another healthcare trend that we’ll see more of in 2019 is in blockchain systems. Blockchain technology is essentially a new method of storing the same amount of digital information in such a way that it takes up less space. It essentially allows digital information to be distributed but not copied. Blockchain first made waves because it was devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin. Since then, the ways in which it could be used in other tech platforms is expanding. So how will this affect healthcare, you ask? The way in which blockchain systems will impact healthcare in the future is to transfer data across health systems in ways that the Electronic Medical Records cannot. For instance, there are currently many limitations to Electronic Medical Records when it comes to their compatibility between health systems. Health systems have to be using the same Electronic Medical Record hosting system to connect and share information with one another. On the other hand, blockchain systems could allow this information to get where it needs to be without those limitations. As Johnston points out, stepping away from centralized patient data systems to “blockchain” systems could take data sharing to a whole new level. With blockchains, “data ownership is decentralized from, say, a health care system to an individual patient, but still part of a larger interconnected system that allows for sharing of data,” Johnston explained. “This could help keep patient records more secure, while simultaneously making it easier for providers to share information on patient care.”
Johnston isn’t the only one pointing to blockchain systems growing in 2019. An article in Forbes, “Top 8 Healthcare Predictions for 2019” hinted on the same thing. The business publication predicted that 5-10 percent of blockchain applications related to healthcare will move from pilot stages to commercial availability. This could be the year we see blockchain systems really launching into the healthcare industry and forever changing data collection and sharing between health systems.
3 – Medical Devices and Telemedicine
Now that we have discussed Electronic Medical Records and blockchain systems in helping to enhance patient care, it’s important to note that there are other ways that technology and data collection will break barriers in patient-physician interaction next year. When we consider Johnston’s example – Electronic Medical Records and blockchain systems will let physicians communicate with each other – we can now take her example a step further. That is to say that these technology systems will not only make information sharing easier between providers, but they will also let patients connect directly with their doctors – without ever going to visit them. This puts patients easily and actively engaged in their health. “As the “internet of things” grows, and we collect health data on everything from our FitBits, to our smart scales, to the phones we carry 24/7, the potential for interaction between our EMRs and our technology increases,” Johnston said. “There is even a device available to consumers that allows you to take a medical-grade electrocardiogram, or EKG, in conjunction with your smartphone. As we combine smarter and more medically accurate devices with advances in telemedicine, we may begin to see traditional doctor’s office visits becoming a thing of the past.”
4 – Smartphones in the Classroom
The fourth trend to keep an eye on in 2019 isn’t just in how technology will change systems in hospitals but also how it will change procedures in the classroom. Technology isn’t just changing the way patients and providers interact, collect data, and make decisions. It’s also changing the way providers are being trained. For example, healthcare workers aren’t getting in trouble for having their cell phones out in class anymore. They’re actually encouraged to use these devices to enhance the way in which they learn. “We’ve even seen smartphones change how we teach about health care. Instead of banning them from the classroom, we’ve introduced collaborative software and equipment that allow students to share information from their devices with one another in real-time, making lessons an interactive session of learning together instead of the traditional lecture or “sage on the stage” approach,” Johnston said. Allowing students to collaborate in this way helps prepare them for all of the technology they will have to use and rely on when they get out into the real world.
5 – Breaking Down Silos
Another of the healthcare trends for 2019 related to provider education is that educators are breaking down silos in the classroom, according to Dr. Kristen Zulkosky, director of the center for excellence and practice at the PA College of Health Sciences. More and more, health systems are collaborating across disciplines or specialties to create teams of care. For example, the healthcare industry is slowly trying to make this often-complicated service easier for people to use. Patients notoriously have to see many different doctors for the same issue, and these doctors don’t communicate with one another. This causes the patient’s experience to be stressful, and often times the proper plan of care slips through the cracks. Creating teams of care is much more efficient than the traditional siloed treatment plans that don’t connect, and sometimes even clash. In the classroom, this is happening in the same way. With classrooms breaking down silos, this could make it easier for new physicians entering the field to come up with more efficient ways to do the same thing in the hospital. “Not only are we breaking down silos in the classroom, but we’re also bringing disciplines together through clinical simulation experiences,” Zulkosky said. “Using sophisticated technology such as high-fidelity human patient simulators with measurable, responsive vital signs, educators can develop scenarios that bring together disciplines to truly understand what it means to care for a patient as part of a team.”
6 – Artificial Intelligence
Zukosky’s mention of simulation technology is a great transition into our sixth healthcare trend for 2019 – artificial intelligence. We couldn’t, after all, talk about the future of any industry without mentioning artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence will continue to change healthcare in so many ways. Generally speaking, artificial intelligence will open the doors for humans and technology to connect in a way that we can monitor human activity more so than ever before. When it comes to healthcare, this means providers will be able to use artificial intelligence to treat patients on a whole new level. For example, this groundbreaking technology could help providers to diagnose patients in parts of the world where there is a shortage of doctors, without the doctor having to actually be on location and physically see the patient. Some even predict that artificial intelligence could enhance treatments, such as radiology, to the point that providers will no longer need to take tissue samples from patients. These few examples are just barely delving into the surface of the ways in which the healthcare industry is using artificial intelligence.
In the Forbes article mentioned above, it reported that in 2019, artificial intelligence for healthcare IT application will cross to $1.7 billion and that it will increase workflow productivity in the industry by 10 to 15 percent in the next two to three years. This investment will not only make healthcare providers more efficient, but it will save them time and money in processes that will make a world of difference in patient experience.
7 – Value-based healthcare
In general, as you look back on healthcare trends one through six, all of them are essentially centered on the theme of data collection and ways to improve patient experience. Our seventh and final healthcare trend of 2019 follows that same theme. Value-based care, or paying physicians based on the quality of care they provide instead of the number of patients they see or the hours they log in a day, is a growing trend. As technology allows us to better measure patient outcomes, value-based care payment models will grow. Things like Electronic Medical Records, blockchain systems, and artificial intelligence will give healthcare systems the tools they need to determine which treatment plans work, which ones don’t, and how to get the best health outcomes. As these measurements become more precise, paying physicians based on their patients’ health outcomes will become more and more justifiable. Some health systems have already adopted this payment model, as did the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, operated by the federal government.
Transitioning from payment for hours logged to payment for the value of care provided is challenging for physicians, as is adjusting to many of the new technologies mentioned above. Above all, 2019 will be a year of subtle but impactful changes in the healthcare industry.
These seven healthcare technology trends for 2019 are just a sample of what the healthcare industry might see. What are some things you’re keeping an eye on for 2019 in the healthcare industry? Did we miss anything? What are your predictions for the healthcare industry in 2019? Share with us in the comments below!