COVID-19 created change in the healthcare industry that will persist in the years to come. The pandemic has caused patients, providers, and payers to become increasingly accepting of new technologies that alleviate workplace stress and facilitate better patient care amid industry challenges.
One such challenge is the mass exodus of healthcare workers who retired early or are leaving the field due to the pandemic. Of course, even before COVID-19, healthcare struggled with workforce shortages and burnout. As far back as 2005, 75 percent of nurses were attributing workplace stress and insufficient patient care to workforce shortages.
However, there is hope for the future. The pandemic served as a call to action for a new eager generation of aspiring providers, creating an uptick in medical school applications. Overall, applications to medical schools increased by 18 percent in 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with some schools seeing application surges as high as 35 percent more than the previous year.
This new generation of healthcare providers has a different relationship with technology, not only because many medical schools are integrating technology into their curriculum but because they have grown up in a world perpetuated by technology. Given this relationship, they will be even more open to innovative and technology-driven solutions.
Among these solutions, here are the top five for 2022 that are making the future of healthcare better for everyone.
1. Taking Telehealth to the Edge
Telehealth has always existed on the fringes of healthcare, but the pandemic made it the default mode of patient-provider interaction. Even with the return of in-person visits, telehealth use has increased 38 fold from pre-pandemic levels, as patients and providers alike enjoy the flexibility of having the option for virtual appointments.
Telehealth generates enormous amounts of data. Much of this comes from connected technologies, like sensors and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices. In order for telehealth to continue to expand and provide value, facilities need to invest in edge computing where the massive amount of decentralized data generated by telehealth can be processed and analyzed in real time.
Edge computing reduces the amount of bandwidth required for processing and storing massive amounts of data across telehealth technologies. It also minimizes latency for faster decision-making and communications among providers and patients, which is especially critical for situations where every second counts.
Democratize Healthcare at the Edge
Telehealth creates new opportunities for patients who live in “care deserts,” or 30 or more miles away from quality healthcare. Eighty percent of U.S. counties lack access to some form of essential care, but telehealth enables patients to receive these services no matter where they live.
With nearly 75 percent of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits able to be safely and effectively handled by telemedicine, access to telehealth in rural areas could help close a longtime health gap.
Telehealth programs, including remote monitoring, can be implemented without edge computing. However, without an investment in edge computing, telehealth data must be pushed to a centralized location such as a provider’s data center or a major cloud provider. Unfortunately, processing telehealth data at a centralized location is slower and bandwidth intensive.
With edge computing, data is processed close to the point of creation which limits the amount of bandwidth and time required to support a modern telehealth initiative.
Edge computing also makes new technologies such as remote patient monitoring more accessible. IoMT-connected monitoring devices can provide information on patients wherever they are, at the facility or at home. When applied to telehealth scenarios, providers and patients benefit from the real-time data access provided by edge computing. For example, a doctor can be video conferencing a patient while also receiving health data, allowing them to better assess patient complaints and provide an educated treatment plan.
Additionally, remote monitoring devices boost patient outcomes by empowering patients to take control of their health. With these devices, they can monitor their own vitals, make their medication regimen work around their schedule, and send their physician updates.
Connection’s Telemedicine Solutions can help you take telehealth to the edge, providing you and your patients with more convenient, safe, and collaborative healthcare tools.
2. Smart Data Processing with AI/ML
In addition to facilitating telehealth, an edge investment enables better performance of AI/ML implementations (artificial intelligence and machine learning) and big data initiatives. Running AI/ML efforts close to the point of data creation enables a provider to identify patterns locally and streamline training models for faster processing and improved accuracy.
86 percent of healthcare professionals whose organizations have adopted AI found that the technology helped them make better use of data, and 79 percent said it helped them reduce provider burnout by automating tedious back-office tasks.
There are several ways AI/ML can move the healthcare industry forward. But research and development, population health management, and revenue cycle management are key emerging areas where organizations are unlocking the benefits of this technology.
AI can improve cancer identification by looking at samples and identifying abnormal areas faster and more accurately than humans can. For example, Children’s Health of Orange County is working to build an edge infrastructure to support an AI initiative that helps clinicians provide faster and more accurate diagnoses.
Boost Accuracy for Population Health Management
In 2019, only 21 percent of healthcare organizations were using analytics to manage population health at scale. But with smart data processing at the edge, the trend is growing.
Edge computing allows for fast analysis and integration of health data with other socioeconomic and environmental data, providing insights about whether a patient is at-risk, likely to be readmitted, or struggles with noncompliance. With this information, providers can make more informed treatment decisions and make better long-term care plans.
Automate and Analyze: Revenue Collection
Payment and claims management is a burden for any provider. Efficiently designed AI/ML initiatives can lighten this burden.
AI can automate processes that previously were handled manually on a case-by-case basis. For example, prior authorizations are the most burdensome, transaction-heavy parts of the revenue cycle, requiring staff to complete a series of repetitive tasks. AI can alleviate the burden on providers by automating these steps and anticipating changes on future authorizations.
Claims departments are utilizing ML in a similar way. On average, health claims have a 9 percent denial rate. ML can be used to learn why claims are being denied, apply intelligence during claim review, flag missing information, and prompt human interference. This allows the system to predict which claims will be denied and correct the situation before they are ever submitted.
3. A Wider Playing Field for Robotics
Surgical robots have been around since the 1980s, first offering surgeons assistance in the operating room via robotic arms. Surgical assist capabilities in robotics have evolved to allow procedures to be done with minimal invasiveness, reducing recovery time and mitigating infection risk.
Today, with increased network optimization, faster processing speeds (with edge or 5G), and heightened security, robotics-assisted healthcare procedures can be completed in a wider array of locations.
Alleviate Labor Shortages
Healthcare robots have spread from the surgical theater to other parts of the industry, mitigating the workforce shortage by performing simple but time-consuming tasks to free up workers to focus on patient care.
AI will continue to support this increased emphasis on robotics by allowing human-supervised robots to act more autonomously, performing surgeries, moving freely about the hospital to perform tasks, such as linen transportation, disinfection, and even patient interaction.
Enhance Workplace Infection Control
Healthcare robotics played a large role during the pandemic, checking patients for fever, disinfecting hospital rooms, and delivering medicine and food. Robots are also playing a larger role in patient care. Robots equipped with screens and specialized sensors can be used to interact with patients without putting providers and other patients at risk of infection.
Facilitate Operations Management
Behind the scenes, robotics help with logistics, inventory tracking, and supply management. Today, this looks like robots navigating elevators and hospital floors to transport medication and supplies throughout the facility.
However, trends are moving toward robots playing a more crucial role in supply chain management in the future, facilitating initiatives like perpetual inventory and strategic sourcing.
4. Without Security There Is Only Instability
Healthcare systems became a primary target for cybercriminals amid the pandemic. Rushed technology adoption and organization changes left them vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. These attacks are detrimental not only for compliance reasons, but they can also completely disrupt operations by forcing a hospital or an entire healthcare system to move its network offline and resort to pen and paper, putting patients at risk.
In the last year, there have been 706 major healthcare data breaches (over 500 records), compromising the healthcare data of more 44 million individuals.
While technologies and tools such as robotics, IoMT, and advanced data computing provide exciting new opportunities in the realm of healthcare, they also provide potential vulnerability points for ransomware attacks.
To combat cybersecurity attacks, organizations must build more resilient centralized networks, fortify infrastructure, ensure device security, and work in best-of-breed cloud configurations. Connection can help protect your data, manage your mobile devices and network, and migrate seamlessly to the cloud.
5. Improving Surgical Outcomes through AR/VR
The use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is growing in the surgical arena and post-op recovery, currently being used in state-of-art facilities. AR augments what is seen in reality by using image overlays and location-specific information, while VR creates a new digital environment that replaces the current real world. AR and VR differ in their healthcare applications, but they are both being used to improve surgery and post-op care.
Minimize Invasive Procedures
When performing surgery, a surgeon typically uses an anatomical roadmap gleaned from 2D imaging, such as scans and x-rays. This acts as a terrific guide when performing an open surgery where the patient’s anatomy is exposed. But today more surgeries are being performed using less invasive means to lessen recovery times and mitigate infection risk.
AR can be used to provide crucial visuals to guide surgeons during less invasive procedures. By creating a 3D rendering of a patient’s anatomy and superimposing it on their live video feed, AR gives surgeons much more detail during an operation.
For example, smart glasses combine medical image processing with 3D AR visualizations. That way, an orthopedic surgeon can perform minimally invasive procedures more accurately by projecting three-dimensional representations of the patient’s internal anatomy into the surgeon’s limited field of view.
Enable Better Practice and Education Opportunities
Surgeons can also use these 3D renderings to practice their surgery beforehand. For example, Medivis uses a combination of AR and AI imaging to provide surgeons with a 3D holographic visualization of a patient’s anatomy, allowing the surgeon to create a plan and even practice procedures beforehand.
VR is emerging as a vital training tool for our next generation of surgeons. Using goggles and headsets, students can be taken on a 3D tour of the human body while an instructor narrates. Furthermore, VR can be used to educate patients and alleviate anxiety by showing them exactly what’s going on in their body and how a surgery will be performed.
During surgery, a physician using an AR tool can enable remote access for expert colleagues, residents, or students to see what they’re seeing and hearing and offer feedback. It can similarly be used for patient rounds.
Improve Pain Management
Another area where VR is emerging as a potential solution is pain management. In this scenario, VR works as an interactive distraction, encouraging patients to manage their breathing or focus on what’s in front of them rather than the pain.
During COVID, Hoag Hospital treated nearly 200 inpatients with VR technology and asked them to rate their pain before and after a 15–30 minute session. The results were encouraging, with patients reporting lower pain levels and showing decreased activity on MRI scans of pain-processing areas of the brain.
This study and the growing body of research indicate that VR is a promising, risk-free pain management solution that could even abate the use of opioids.
Prepare for the Future of Care
As the healthcare industry becomes more comfortable with technology, what are now revolutionary trends will become commonplace in the years to come. But healthcare organizations shouldn’t wait until then to start exploring.
At Connection, we help healthcare organizations prepare for the future of care by providing the tools and guidance they need to implement edge infrastructure, AI/ML, robotics, and other innovations successfully and without compromising security. Get the most from your technology investments and make your organization better for your patients, providers, and the communities you serve. If you are interested in learning more about how Connection can help your organization implement the technologies discussed in this blog, connect with one of our healthcare experts today!