The world is a very different place than it was ten years ago, and nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare. The aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, combined with the financial downturn and an acceleration in the adoption of technology and digitization, have dramatically changed the landscape for everyone, patient or practitioner.
Here’s my overview of what I believe will be the most important trends of the next 12 months:
Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare
The market for Artificial intelligence (AI) – specifically, machine learning (ML) tools in healthcare is forecast to top $20 million in 2023. Various AI-aligned technologies, such as computer vision, natural language processing, and pattern recognition algorithms, are already deeply embedded in the healthcare ecosystem and will continue to be adopted as evidence of their usefulness grows throughout 2023. Some examples of areas where AI is used include drug discovery, where it can assist with predicting outcomes of clinical trials and potential side effects of new drugs, as well as analysis of medical imagery, which involves using computer vision algorithms to spot early warning signs of disease in x-rays or MRI scans. It has also successfully been used to detect and treat neurological disorders, including Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease.
Outside of frontline clinical work, AI also has applications in clerical work, such as processing insurance claims and management or analysis of medical record keeping. It can also be used to analyze data collected from patient wearables or in-home sensors used in virtual hospital settings (more on that in my next trend) to provide early warning or predictive diagnosis of various conditions. Put together, all of these use cases indicate that AI and ML will continue to be a prominent trend in healthcare throughout the coming year.
Remote Healthcare - Virtual Hospitals, Healthcare Communities, and Telehealth
Healthcare delivered remotely increased significantly during the pandemic. Even now that it’s generally safe to resume face-to-face routine appointments, many patients and providers have realized that for many conditions, care can be provided more efficiently and cost-effectively at a distance.
Remote healthcare falls into a number of different categories. There is an increase in home-based care driven by evidence that shows that a familiar environment and proximity to a family can have a positive effect on patient outcomes, as well as being hugely cost-efficient compared to inpatient care. Then there is telemedicine, which covers everything from video calling your doctor rather than visiting their surgery to remote surgery, where a surgeon carries out surgery on a patient in a remote location using robotic technology. Another remote healthcare model is the virtual hospital ward, which involves practitioners in a centralized location providing care for a number of remote patients, often with related conditions. Another initiative involves enabling patients to complete more of the procedures that are related to their illness and treatment at home before being admitted to hospital. In the UK, for example, it’s planned that this will be rolled out in 2023 to all patients facing hospital stays for surgery.
Additionally, there is a growing understanding of the importance of online communities, which may be patient-led rather than practitioner-led, or may be run by charities linked to specific health conditions, where users can come together to share help and advice related to their treatment and recovery. Some examples of these include Patients Like Me, Care Opinion, and cancer.org.
With the cost of delivering in-person healthcare continuing to rise, and ongoing shortages of medical practitioners in many countries, it’s a safe bet that all varieties of remote healthcare will be a growing trend in 2023.
According to researchers at Forrester, the amount of healthcare business conducted through retail outlets will double during 2023. This is becoming an increasingly visible trend as retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and CVS offer healthcare services such as blood tests, vaccinations, and medical check-ups that have traditionally been delivered by hospitals, clinics or doctors’ practices. This trend will become more prominent as global economic conditions lead to squeezed budgets at traditional frontline primary care facilities. This is compounded by Retail healthcare providers leveraging consumer expectations of streamlined customer experience and choice to create services that patients will increasingly find a more convenient and better value than traditional primary care delivery. As Forrester’s research puts it, “In 2023, patients will choose retail health for their primary care needs as health systems, constrained by inadequate resources, fail to match retail’s elevated patient experiences.”
Retail healthcare providers are typically more accessible and may not require appointments to be booked in advance, compared to traditional healthcare providers. They are also less affected by the shortages of trained clinical staff that many countries are currently experiencing – a problem that is only predicted to worsen.
Wearable Medical Devices
Wearable devices will be increasingly used by individuals during 2023 to track their own health and exercise activity, as well as by clinicians to monitor patients remotely. The "Internet of Medical Things" has rapidly expanded in recent years from simple devices designed to track vital signs such as heart rate and blood oxygen levels to smart watches capable of sophisticated scans such as ECGs, smart textiles that can detect blood pressure and predict the risk of heart attacks, and smart gloves that can reduce the tremors suffered by patients with Parkinson’s Disease. As well as physical illness, a growing emphasis is being placed on developing wearable devices capable of monitoring and detecting signs of mental illnesses. A study was published this year showing how physical indicators such as activity levels, sleep patterns, and heart rate can be used to detect when individuals may be at risk of depression, and we may start to see medical wearables incorporating some of this functionality soon.
In 2023, we will increasingly see wearable medical devices acting as “edge” devices, which means they will be equipped with processors and capable of utilizing in-device analytics rather than requiring that data is sent back and forward between the device and the cloud to be processed. This has two main benefits: The first is privacy, as sensitive patient personal data never has to leave the device. Secondly, there's speed – which is critical in the case of devices designed to detect and warn of potentially life-threatening conditions in real time.
During 2023, patients will have more opportunities to receive healthcare delivery that is personalized specifically to them. This includes the concept of precision medicine, where drugs and other treatments are specifically tailored to a group of patients – based on factors such as age, genetics or risk factors – rather than administered on a one-size-fits-all approach. The most advanced and precise forms of personalized healthcare take into account a person's genetic information or genome and can help healthcare practitioners predict how effective specific drugs will be or whether they are likely to suffer from side effects. AI and ML algorithms are sometimes used to assist with these predictions.
The term personalized healthcare is also sometimes used in relation to moves to allow patients to make more choices about how their care is planned and delivered. This usually involves drawing up a personal treatment plan for an individual, considering their own circumstances, opinions and beliefs when making choices about how and where they should be treated. As is also true in industry and the wider economy outside of healthcare, every form of personalization is likely to be a major trend throughout 2023.