Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Healthcare trends don’t tend to go in and out like fashion. Once a great new change starts, it usually needs to develop over the course of some years, then endures. I see the following newcomer trends — a number of which gained momentum as a result of the pandemic — as likely candidates for the long run.
1. Hybrid care models combining virtual and in-person services
The pandemic and the need for physical distancing was responsible for a major acceleration of virtual care over the last two years — a market that could reach $250 billion, according to a July, 2021 McKinsey & Company report. While virtual care and “telehealth” is undoubtedly here to stay, it will not eclipse in-person care, however. Instead, we can expect to see more of a hybrid, as care providers seek to offer patients the best of both worlds. Patients can expect to be encouraged to do more initial consultations via video call, wherein they describe issues to a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant, who can then assess need and schedule a visit or tests accordingly. Those with common conditions such as minor infections or the flu can go over symptoms and be issued a prescription, and refills can mostly be done by simply sending an email via a patient portal.
For times when a doctor needs to conduct a physical examination or where tests need to be performed, in-person care will remain as usual. This hybridization will save time for patients and care professionals alike, making the processes — from arranging appointments to doing follow-ups —more efficient and convenient.
2. Digitization of healthcare specialties
Primary care visits aren’t the only appointments that have gone online. More and more healthcare specialties are embracing the digital age — digital pathology a good example. Whereas pathologists once had to do much of this work crouched over a microscope peering at slides, they can now be digitally photographed and viewed more easily on a large computer monitor, and this data becomes available for other consultations, or study. Similarly, radiologists are embracing the digitization of medical imaging. Scanning makes it possible to transmit an X-ray from a rural clinic so that it can be reviewed by a radiologists nationwide, and associated software can help with organizing, prioritizing and reading images. Virtual reality programs, meanwhile, allow a surgeon to “practice” an upcoming procedure using the patient’s medical images.
3. Increased AI adoption
Healthcare has been a little slower than other industries in adopting and integrating AI and machine learning, but the application floodgates are now open — from scheduling and administrative tasks to identifying abnormalities in imaging. So far, AI has been principally functioning as a kind of assistant, helping on the backend to make the work of medical professionals faster or easier, but as programs grow increasingly sophisticated, they will be able to perform more complex tasks, and may even graduate to being more akin to an experienced colleague than an assistant.
Patients are gaining trust in AI as well, which will be a key factor in speeding up its adoption, and are especially open to its use in conjunction with an actual doctor. It has the potential to be extremely valuable — sometimes even demonstrating a keener eye than the medical professional — but its greatest value will be in partnership with a human brain.
4. Health systems moving to the cloud
All of the above-mentioned trends rely on a complex technological foundation, which is why another innovation — moving health systems and data to the cloud — will be so important. The healthcare industry has many sprawling networks, including those of universities and hospital systems, within which many stakeholders must be able to communicate — doctor’s offices, radiology labs, pharmacies, health insurance companies, patients, etc. Cloud-based platforms are making novel systems like patient portals possible, offering interoperability and a secure way for important information to be transmitted quickly and easily from anywhere, at any time.
5. Advanced precision medicine
Healthcare tailored specifically for you, “precision medicine” is a product of our digital world — one in which genetic testing is now available and wearable technology like Fitbits can read vital signs in a flash. The ready availability of this kind of health data enables providers to create customized treatment plans suited to each individual. Patients are experiencing the wonders of such precision medicine in the form of immunotherapy for cancer, as well as drugs specially formulated for cystic fibrosis patients with particular gene mutations. Further, those who need medical devices are increasingly able to get them individually designed and sized, thanks to digital imaging and 3D printing. Increased adoption of AI is only accelerating these advances in precision medicine.