CIOs Guide to 10 Emerging Healthcare Technology Trends For 2022
As we approach two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say that the digitization of the healthcare industry is accelerating at a never-before-seen pace. While this tech transformation was bound to happen, the pandemic kicked it into overdrive, forcing healthcare organizations to adapt quickly or be left behind.
Digital transformation has gained momentum in the healthcare industry and it looks like it won’t be stopping anytime soon. According to the HIMSS Future of Healthcare Report, 80% of healthcare providers plan to increase investment in technology and digital solutions over the next five years. In addition, 47% cited digital as a top organizational priority and 58% plan to invest $10M+ in digital health programs by 2026.
Emerging healthcare technology trends play an especially critical role in alleviating a particularly pressing problem in the industry: labor shortages.
An analysis of the US healthcare labor market by management consulting firm Mercer reveals that demand for healthcare workers will outpace supply by 2025. There are a variety of reasons for this impending shortage, including an aging population demanding more medical care, coupled with advancements in medicine that are causing people to live longer, often with more chronic conditions as they age.
Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention COVID-19 as a factor that has further compounded the issue, as a nationwide labor shortage has hit the pandemic-strained healthcare industry especially hard, with burnout causing a significant number of healthcare workers to quit while those who contract the virus themselves are forced to stay at home. In fact, according to Bloomberg, hospitals and health agencies are facing the worst staffing shortage in as much as four decades, leaving the industry hungry for viable solutions to help solve this issue.
The US healthcare market is growing at a rapid pace, with the value of the national healthcare product expected to rise as high as 6 trillion USD by 2026. With the industry rapidly changing, there are tons of opportunities for healthcare organizations to evolve. But to do so and keep pace with where the industry is headed, it’s necessary for healthcare leaders to embrace emerging healthcare technology trends to transform their organizations with more efficient operations and higher quality, more accessible care while mitigating an impending labor shortage. Let’s look at the top 10 trends healthcare CIOs should keep an eye on in 2022.
Trend #1: Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare
AI technology is revolutionizing almost every industry, and healthcare is certainly no exception. In 2022, its impact is expected to continue to grow, as more organizations and clinicians adopt advanced AI technology in a variety of domains to optimize the patient journey and achieve better health outcomes.
In 2021, the global artificial intelligence in healthcare market size was valued at a whopping $10.4 billion, a figure that is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 38.4% from 2022 to 2030. However, in spite of its astronomical value, there is still room to grow when it comes to adoption.
According to the HIMSS 2021 Future of Healthcare Report, 62% of clinicians have yet to begin working with AI tools but are interested in doing so for a wide variety of applications, with 80% reporting that they expect to use AI in clinical settings for detection of diseases, and 73% expecting AI to deliver administrative benefits on the patient management side.
With stress and burnout being rampant in healthcare, professionals expending undue time and energy on routine tasks is only compounding the issue. AI technology in healthcare can help alleviate these burdens by automating such tasks, freeing up professionals to focus on delivering outstanding care and services.
The Role of AI in Combatting COVID-19
There’s no denying that the pandemic has had a massive impact on our everyday lives. But, without AI technology playing a crucial role in virus detection, prevention, and vaccine development, things could have been far worse.
For example, AI technology has been helpful in analyzing crowd temperature data to identify potentially symptomatic individuals. Advances in AI-powered facial recognition are capable of identifying individuals even if they are wearing a face mask and can also detect if the user is wearing a mask in areas where it is mandatory.
The COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time and much of that unprecedented speed is owed to advanced AI technology. Researchers used machine learning to help identify protein fragments and produce viable vaccines in a much shorter period of time than ever before. AI is also being applied to analyze lung scans of patients who have contracted COVID-19, to better help medical professionals understand the effects of contracting the virus and provide effective treatments.
Improving Mental Health with AI
Beyond physical health, AI technology is also making its mark in the realm of mental health, particularly in the context of the pandemic that has wreaked havoc on individuals’ psychological well-being. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 30% of American adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, compared to less than 10% in 2019.
Researchers at MIT and Harvard University have been utilizing machine learning to track trends in mental health as it relates to COVID-19. They applied an AI model to analyze the text of 800,000 Reddit posts, identifying changes in the tone and content of language that people used as the first wave of the pandemic progressed, from January to April of 2020. This analysis revealed changes in conversations about mental health, including an overall increase in discussion about anxiety and suicide.
Outside of helping researchers better understand the profound psychological effects of the pandemic, AI technology is also helping physicians identify mental illness earlier and put together more targeted treatment plans, by categorizing patient diagnoses into different condition subgroups to help mental health professionals personalize the care they provide. With AI technology, therapists can sift through large amounts of data to identify family histories and responses to prior treatments to make more insightful decisions.
Conversational AI for Healthcare
Conversational AI utilizes advanced automation, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing (NLP) to make machines capable of understanding and responding to human language, via voice or text. Think of it as the brain behind the chat window — like a human brain, it has the flexibility, processing power, and learning ability to engage in complex conversation. Advanced conversational AI platforms can seamlessly ingest data from healthcare organizations, patients, and various other sources to become better at the services they offer.
In contrast, traditional chatbots have a narrow scope and rely on rigid intent-based flows, causing them to stumble when they are asked a question they do not have an answer for, or if the question is worded slightly differently than what they were trained with. On the other hand, conversational AI solutions can use language in much the same way humans do, with an understanding of the particular context, nuances, dialects, and a working memory of the conversation.
More and more healthcare organizations are investing in advanced conversational AI platforms that promise to boost the patient experience and streamline organizational efficiency. With the right platform, conversational AI improves patient engagement and opens new avenues for access, while improving healthcare outcomes by enabling:
- Appointment scheduling: Access to care may be limited if the only way to book an appointment is through a phone call, as some patients might struggle due to a language barrier, social anxiety, or other factors. Conversational AI solves this problem by making it easy to find a provider and book an appointment online, through text or voice.
- Appointment reminders: An AI-powered virtual assistant can issue reminders to patients directly through SMS or via social channels, so that there are fewer no-shows.
- Electronic prescribing: Patients can use an advanced chatbot to request a refill or reauthorization of a prescription.
- Communication with healthcare professionals: The lack of opportunity to converse with healthcare professionals presents a significant barrier to accessing care. Conversational AI allows patients to ask critical questions that physicians can respond to electronically or mark to be addressed in the next appointment.
- Distribution of public health information: A conversational AI platform helps ensure the health and safety of communities by offering quick and easy access to key information from verified sources, taking significant pressure off of healthcare professionals who can focus on more critical activities.
Trend #2: Telehealth and Remote Care
Although the pandemic may be (hopefully) approaching endemic status, many of the changes it causes in care delivery are here to stay, none more so than telehealth and video conferencing. The use of virtual care skyrocketed in the last year and that trend is expected to continue in 2022 and beyond, with as many as 64% of global healthcare leaders saying they’re currently investing heavily in it.
On the patient side, the appetite for digital health appears to be stronger than ever. According to the 2021 HIMSS Future of Healthcare Report, more than half of patients surveyed indicated they would be open to telehealth visits exclusively, with this all-digital inclination being especially pronounced among younger respondents. Moreover, when asked how they felt about all healthcare visits being virtual by the year 2025, 52% of those surveyed reported being “somewhat” or “strongly in favor”, indicating an overall positive inclination.
As remote care continues to gain traction both in the U.S. and worldwide, it is expected to eclipse traditional in-person visits in the coming years. However, before that happens, care providers must ensure that they are HIPAA compliant. While some restrictions were relaxed during the peak of the pandemic to enable wider access to care, that will no longer be the case going forward. It’s crucial for healthcare organizations to thoroughly evaluate the applications they use to communicate with their patients remotely and ensure they meet regulatory standards.
Trend #3: Digital Therapeutics
Digital therapeutics (DTx) are devices that deliver evidence-based therapeutic interventions, via software like mobile health and wellness apps, to replace or complement the existing treatment of a disease. They differ from the broader digital health market as they are subject to approval by regulatory bodies and must display a viable proof-of-concept. With virtually limitless possibilities, it’s not surprising that Insider Intelligence forecasts the DTx market to be a $56 billion global opportunity by 2025.
DTx vendors are currently leveraging their technology to treat chronic and behavioral conditions, which make up the bulk of healthcare spending in the U.S. However, the growing need for therapeutic treatments combined with the long-term effects of the pandemic are fueling growth in new areas in the global DTx market. As pandemic-induced anxiety and depression continue, DTx companies are poised to make an impact by complementing existing treatments or even replacing them altogether.
Trend #4: Remote Patient Monitoring
In a similar vein to the rise of telehealth, healthcare providers are increasingly turning to remote patient monitoring devices as a way to complement remote care delivery, a trend that is here to stay for the long haul. To ensure non-stop patient monitoring and help with the treatment of complex diseases, clinicians provide patients with wearable devices that measure critical health data, remind patients to take their medication, and send back relevant data for monitoring.
Such devices serve to maximize access to care, strengthen connections with at-risk populations, and minimize the transmission of COVID-19 while providing engaging patient experiences. Wearables help healthcare organizations reduce the strain on scarce resources by cutting down on time and costs while delivering outstanding care. The many benefits for both patients and providers have served as a driver to implement digital health solutions at scale throughout the U.S., particularly in underserved areas such as rural regions and with disadvantaged populations.
While this trend is another positive step forward, there is still a long way to go. According to the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO), half the world still lacks access to essential health services and, without drastic action, it's estimated that 5 billion people will be unable to access healthcare resources by 2030. This alarming prediction illustrates the need for advanced healthcare organizations to continue to develop innovative digital health technologies that improve access to quality healthcare for all.
Trend #5: Improved Payment Collections in Healthcare
Prior to the pandemic, the medical billing landscape had remained relatively stable. However, the COVID-induced chaos has significantly sped up the healthcare industry’s digital transformation, bringing about new advancements and paradigm shifts in all domains. In addition to firmly cementing as the de-facto method of care delivery, the pandemic has also illuminated a need to improve the management of administrative tasks, particularly when it comes to billing and claims processing.
A few key trends in medical billing to watch in 2022 include:
- Artificial Intelligence: AI is already being used in many billing solutions and its scope is expected to continue to expand, thanks to its ability to prevent errors in medical coding, reduce time spent on manual labor, and analyze data.
- Integrating EHRs into the billing process: As medical billing systems continue to improve, integrating EHRs into the billing workflow provides a multitude of benefits, including saving time on data entry, simplifying access to medical histories, and offering a seamless data flow.
- SaaS solutions: This model provides many advantages for healthcare systems, as software vendors are responsible for infrastructure, maintenance, and updates. This means that healthcare organizations can reduce spending, increase data security, and ensure uninterrupted access to services.
Common challenges, such as staff efficiency, payments not being made on time, and a lack of proper billing software are all issues that can be addressed with the right tech solutions. For example, integrated e-Prescription systems can provide healthcare workers with details on insurance coverage to ensure that patients are only prescribed drugs covered by their insurance plans. All the paperwork, including insurance coverage, is automatically verified, so all the patient has to do is pick up their prescription, or have it delivered to their residence.
Trend #6: Virtual and Augmented Reality
When we look back on this particular time in history, we will without a doubt remember the turbulence of the pandemic. But, not to be outdone, the advent of the metaverse will also likely stand out as a zeitgeist-defining development. And if Mark Zuckerberg is to be believed, our hypothetical foray into the past may be a wholly immersive experience thanks to advanced virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.
What is the Difference Between VR and AR?
According to research by Deloitte, almost 90 percent of companies with annual revenues between $100 million and $1 billion are now leveraging augmented reality or virtual reality technology. With these technologies garnering so much interest, let’s take a moment to differentiate between the two.
Virtual reality immerses people in experiences, usually through the use of sophisticated technology such as headsets. On the other hand, augmented reality usually begins with a real view of a device like a camera or mobile phone, and then projects realistic images onto the screen or viewer to enhance the lifelike experience.
Today, the most common uses of AR and VR are in gaming. But, that is slowly shifting, as more industries begin to adopt these sophisticated technologies. According to research from IDC, the combined augmented reality and virtual reality markets were worth $12 billion in 2020 and, with a massive annual growth rate of 54%, they are projected to reach a valuation of $72.8 billion by 2024.
VR and VR in Healthcare
Virtual and augmented reality tech is already starting to make its mark in the healthcare industry, with a wide range of practical applications, including improved medical treatments, helping individuals with developmental disorders, and simulating surgeries to reduce errors.
VR tech is also statistically proven to provide healthcare workers with enhanced training that leads to better outcomes. It has been reported to reduce skill fade by 52% and improve retention by up to 75%, compared with 10% for traditional methods. Another study on the impact of VR training in healthcare revealed that students who received VR training were able to complete medical procedures 20% faster than a control group who only received traditional training, with the VR-trained group also completing 38% more steps correctly than the traditionally-trained group.
Treating anxieties and phobias represents another practical use for VR and AR technology on the patient care side, as healthcare professionals can use these immersive tools to simulate real-life scenarios where people feel psychologically challenged, such as fear of insects, fear of confined spaces, or social anxiety. This type of immersive therapy has proven to be highly effective, with Oxford VR reporting a 68% reduction in fears and phobias after an average treatment length of just two hours.
Trend #7: IoT in Healthcare
Let’s start with a simple definition. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is a connected infrastructure of health care systems and services, aimed at providing effective remote care thanks to innovative technology and data integration.
Although there is some overlap between IoMT and remote patient monitoring, IoMT is a broad term that encompasses all types of technologies, while remote patient monitoring refers to devices that help gather, monitor, and process data for improved patient outcomes. The value of digital medical solutions was on full display throughout 2020-2021, and it’s safe to say that that upward trend will continue, as the global IoMT market is expected to grow to $254.2 billion by 2026.
IoMT devices are of the highest value in providing high-quality care, by providing options for healthcare in remote areas that do not have full-time hospitals and giving the option for accessing care from home, something that is especially critical for individuals with limited mobility or those in more isolated communities. Portable devices can run a variety of regular tests and share the results remotely with physicians, all from the comfort of a patient’s own home.
In addition to patient-centered benefits, there are financial advantages as well. A Goldman Sachs report estimated that IoT healthcare could save the American healthcare system $300 billion by improving accessto diagnostic, treatment, and preventative care with telehealth, behavior modification, and remote patient monitoring exhibiting the most potential.
Trend #8: Employee Wellness Apps
Given the significant mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically among healthcare workers, it’s no surprise that wellness initiatives were on the rise over the last two years. Given the widespread benefits on both mental and physical health, that trend will undoubtedly continue to gain traction. In fact, Deloitte’s Future of Health report projects wellness to continue as one of the most important digital health trends in the next 20 years, particularly through the use of various apps that offer a variety of benefits for both workers and employers alike, including:
- Lower costs: In 2018, reports estimated health apps might save the U.S. healthcare system $7 billion each year.
- Higher job satisfaction: A report from SHRM found that 48% of U.S. employees claim that they would have more confidence in digital health tools if their employer offered them, with 26% saying that they would be more inclined to stay with their current employer if such apps were offered.
- More personalization: Most health and wellness apps allow users to set up personal profiles to track key measures like weight, calorie count, mood, and other metrics, giving people more visibility and greater control over their health. .
Trend #9: Increased Focus on Healthcare Privacy and Security
There has been a worrying trend of increased cybersecurity attacks in recent years in virtually all industries, healthcare included. Despite greater precautions and more healthcare provider awareness, data breach statistics demonstrate a dramatic increase over the past few years.
Cybersecurity firm Carbon Black’s report on cybersecurity in healthcare found an average of 816 attempted attacks per endpoint in 2020 — a 9,851% increase from 2019. With multiple data breaches and attacks affecting thousands of patients across the U.S., it’s clear that cybersecurity and data protection will play an increasingly crucial role in 2022, as healthcare providers look to protect their digital ecosystems and patient data.
The first essential step towards avoiding a data breach is to ensure HIPAA compliance. Organizations that operate internationally should also consider the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.
To prevent data breaches, healthcare organizations can take additional actions such as conducting annual cybersecurity checks, providing adequate training for staff, keeping all devices and records and tight supervision, and ensuring all systems are up-to-date and protected against unauthorized access.
Trend #10: Smart Implants
Smart implants are personalized bio-implants that have diagnostic capabilities, in addition to providing therapeutic benefits. In 2022, it’s expected that more advanced implant technologies will make an impact in the healthcare market both in the U.S. and worldwide, promising higher efficiency in regenerative medicine and better outcomes for patient rehabilitation. Some devices even have the potential to offer cures for disabilities that were previously thought to be incurable.
The advent of advanced 3D bioprinting technology has been a major accelerator of the smart implant domain and is expected to continue to drive its growth. In fact, the volume of 3D printing opportunities in the healthcare domain is estimated to surpass $6 billion by the year 2027. While 3D bioprinting is not a new method, the technology is set to become more reliable and accessible in 2022, thanks to new materials and more sophisticated prosthetics methods.
Looking Ahead: Fully Embracing Innovation
As we continue to navigate the pandemic, it’s clear that the healthcare industry has undergone monumental changes that are here to stay for the long haul. With remote care becoming the new gold standard, and advancements in diagnostic, training, and patient engagement tools reaching new heights, healthcare organizations have no choice but to adapt.
The consensus among experts is that new technologies promise more accurate and wide-reaching care, along with greater organizational efficiency, to the benefit of patients and healthcare workers alike.
On paper, it seems simple. Healthcare organizations should embrace these trends and implement new technologies to provide better care and run more efficiently. The reality, however, is much more complex. To navigate various priorities, challenges, and stakeholders, many healthcare leaders are adopting a three-step approach to digital transformation, as outlined in the Philips Future Health Index 2021 report :
- Step 1: Investment in telehealth to bolster care delivery during the pandemic and beyond.
- Step 2: Investment in artificial intelligence as a powerful enabler of operational efficiency and improved diagnosis and treatment.
- Step 3: Establish strategic partnerships with technology companies and others to drive forward digital transformation.
The technology that powers many of the trends outlined in this article isn’t particularly new — in fact, some of it has been around for years. The COVID-19 pandemic gave the health industry as a whole the push forward that it needed to embrace technology and new trends and understand the value that they bring.
As healthcare organizations prepare for the year ahead and beyond, fully embracing innovation and cutting-edge technology is the key to unlocking a brighter future of higher quality care that is more accessible to all.