What to Expect from Connected Health in 2021

The healthcare industry took a big leap forward in its adoption of connected health solutions and tools in 2020, largely driven by the global pandemic. Both healthcare providers and patients felt the impact of the global health crisis but were able to overcome obstacles by transitioning to telehealth services for many healthcare needs.

As a result, perception of telehealth grew increasingly positive over the course of the year, as both providers and patients accepted and learned to use virtual care alternatives.

Collectively, the response from patients and healthcare providers can drive continued momentum for connected health to become a permanent fixture in healthcare delivery. As that happens, the healthcare system could see a number of new trends emerge in 2021.

Telehealth as a Primary Option

With the increased acceptance of telehealth as a viable alternative to in-person care, coupled with consumers’ already existing demand to access services across industries on their terms, telehealth has the opportunity to become the standard first step for many care needs. This will help reduce the burden on providers, while putting patients at the center of their own care experiences.

Improved Data Management

As connected health becomes the “new normal” of healthcare, providers will continue to amass new data from virtual visits, patient input, remote patient monitoring devices, and even consumer wearables. This data can help them improve care, react more rapidly to patient needs, coordinate with other medical professionals, and communicate more effectively.  Patients, too, can have more insight into their patient data and access it to stay more involved in their own wellness.

AI Becomes More Impactful

As the data derived from connected health interactions increases, artificial intelligence can leverage it to drive more informed decisions and better patient outcomes. Artificial intelligence can also help reduce response times to changing patient conditions, enabling earlier interventions to prevent complications. On a broader scale, patient information can be used to support population health initiatives.

Automation Builds Efficiency

Healthcare providers can increase their use of automation to reduce administrative workload and free more time for providers and staff to focus on other patient needs. By spending less time on data entry, appointment scheduling, sending patient information to colleagues, and other manual tasks, they have an opportunity to actually see more patients, helping address the physician shortage challenge.

Primary Care Becomes More Personal

A virtual-first mentality can make it easier for patients and providers to interact and create more touchpoints, which can create better patient/provider relationships. The longer-term impact is that as patients become more intimately involved in their health and wellness through more frequent interactions, they have a better understanding of their overall health needs and can avoid health complications through preventative care.

Mental Health Gains Attention

In addition to its physical health impacts, COVID-19 also had had an impact on mental health:  More than half of U.S. adults say current conditions have had a negative impact on their mental health. Mental health providers have shifted their services to virtual models to enable them to continue treating patients suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. The potential benefit is that the increase in need for mental health services combined with the growth of virtual treatment can give a much-needed boost to mental health care and reduce the stigma traditionally associated with mental health.

Continued Policy Revision

Much of the growth in connected health usage can likely be attributed to the temporary regulatory changes enacted by the government organizations. The CMS has already approved continued measures through 2021, and regulators are being pushed to make many of the temporary changes permanent to give more people access to care through telehealth going forward. Continued support from regulators and governing bodies will play a role in the future of connected health.

While not all healthcare needs will be met with connected health in the future, the stage is set for a large-scale modernization of the healthcare system. Now that the community – providers, patients, and payors – have gained some experience and have started to understand the value of connected health, it is poised to transform how healthcare is delivered. As that happens, patients will continue to see increased access to healthcare services, patients and providers will have more flexibility in care options, all while increasing care continuity and patient/physician relationships.

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