The healthcare industry sees itself transforming almost constantly. Whether that change comes from medical innovation or global phenomena, new trends emerge from the evolving landscape and there is eagerness throughout the industry to keep an eye on these and see how they will come to shape healthcare’s numerous sectors. Never in recent history has this been truer than in the past few years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into lockdown in 2020, the healthcare industry was launched into a period of frantic innovation as professionals all over the world grappled with the question of how to most efficiently deal with a modern pandemic using the healthcare technology at hand. A particular focus was put on digital health solutions, as professionals tried to maintain full communication with the public while also minimising the physical contact required for this. Mediums such as telehealth exploded in popularity, as well as digital portals such as the NHS app.
With the pandemic’s peak now behind us, there is a renewed interest in the medical innovations that the industry saw during the years of lockdown. Although there is not such an urgent need to minimise physical contact, these innovations have proved to be powerful tools of convenience, and they will be expanded upon in 2023, with particular attention to how they can be streamlined and create a personalised and patient-centered experience. There will also be interest in how to combat the backlogs created by the pandemic and leaps and bounds of progress with the use of AI may provide the answer for this.
We will look at the main healthcare trends of 2023 in turn, investigating how they are shaping the industry now, and how they may continue to do so in the future.
Advancements in Technology
2023 is seeing the expansion and refining of remote monitoring. With great strides of progress made thanks to the increased integration of electronic health records (EHR), it is becoming more commonplace for patients who are in remission to be monitored from the comfort of their own homes. This has numerous positive effects and is a big step towards streamlining the flow of patients and tackling backlogs. If a patient can be monitored remotely, then they won’t need repeated follow-up appointments if the condition doesn’t worsen, which frees up the clinician who would be seeing them. It also means that, if the condition does worsen, then the clinician will be alerted at the right time, whereas with the follow-up appointment model, they could act on a sudden deterioration late, or miss it altogether. Remote monitoring will undoubtedly be expanded upon throughout 2023, as the more patients that can be monitored in this way, the greater the benefit to both clinicians and the patients themselves.
Another important healthcare technology that has been booming in growth is nanomedicine. While it only emerged as a concept in the late 1990s, two decades of investment and research into this medical innovation have led to over a hundred commercial products being released. A good example is Abraxane, a nanotechnology-based drug that can treat different types of cancer. The main benefit of nanomedicine is that it can help to increase the efficiency and precision of standard drugs and aid the delivery of them to afflicted tissue. However, there are still issues with some nanotherapeutics being unable to avoid any damage to healthy tissue. Therefore, the focus going forward will be to refine nanomedicine and create more highly efficient and precise drugs using it.
The near future is certainly exciting when it comes to healthcare technology, and treatments will likely be boosted in their efficiency, with digital health solutions also helping to create a fast and effective process that is optimal for both patients and clinicians. One of these solutions is another significant trend that is worth looking at on its own.
Remote Healthcare Monitoring
Remote healthcare is not a new concept at all, with some of the earliest examples of remote health via telephone lines dating back to the start of the 20th century. However, online healthcare suddenly changed from an option to a necessity during the pandemic, when restrictions on physical contact and travel meant the demand for online healthcare solutions suddenly skyrocketed. While those restrictions have since been lifted, many clinics have kept the virtual platforms and remote consultation systems that were developed in response to them. Remote virtual healthcare is destined to be a mainstay in the future of healthcare, so the question turns to how virtual healthcare can be refined into an effective and useful tool.
Perhaps the most important virtual platform in the UK is the NHS app, which was the most downloaded free iPhone app in 2021. This app acts as a digital front door for patients and is becoming an increasingly important asset for increasing the speed of NHS services, as every service that can be accessed digitally is one less document that must be printed and passed through the system. Throughout 2023, a great emphasis has been put on increasing the array of services available via the app and improving those that are already available. For example, the process of ordering prescriptions will be extended to reach people without a nominated pharmacy, while also providing updates for those on repeat prescriptions. Even more services will be added to the app in the future, and by early 2024, patients will be able to access remote consultations via video on the app.
Remote Healthcare Monitoring isn’t just about easier access, either. With the development of Tele-ICU units, in which clinicians can rapidly respond to changes in the health state, mortality rates are expected to be reduced for ICU patients. More time will be dedicated to figuring out how telehealth can have other, similar effects for the healthcare industry.
Another area in which telehealth can have a serious positive impact is in the ease of access to information. There has been a long-standing, ethical issue of ‘informed consent’ when it comes to communicating with patients. Easier and more direct access to information will hopefully be achieved through the increased use of telehealth platforms as well as AI chatbots. Patient empowerment can be achieved if the knowledge gap between them and professionals is sufficiently bridged, and hopefully, these innovations will lead to a more personalised and all-around fulfilling experience.
There has also been a recent push towards greater accessibility to health data. This can often end up scattered and stored in various places, so more centralised health data will lead to easier access, which can then be used to create more personalised treatment plans. Not only do personalised plans boost patient satisfaction, but they have also been proven to cut time and costs of treatment, so it is hoped that by creating a more patient-centered experience, health services can operate more smoothly and work to reduce backlogs.
It is also likely that we will see more patient engagement when it comes to treatments and appointments. With examples such as the NHS app working to give patients greater choice in booking their appointments, there is a move towards more shared decision-making, which will likely lead to more satisfied patients and fewer disruptions in the treatment process.
Integration of AI
Artificial intelligence in healthcare has the potential to revolutionise every aspect of the industry. For starters, technologies such as speech recognition could lead to AI taking much of the burden of the documentation workload from clinicians, something they spend as much as 13.5 hours a week on. This would leave much more time for clinicians to treat patients, while also reducing burnout.
Another field that AI is transforming is surgery. For now, it is mainly in areas such as risk assessment and pre-operative planning, but it is not a stretch to presume that AI-assisted surgery will become widespread shortly, with more direct applications to the surgery itself.
AI diagnostics is another increasingly valued benefit for the healthcare industry. Using predictive analytics, AI can assist clinicians with CT and MRI scans, and yield precise diagnoses. This is another area where AI may take over much of the workload from clinicians as it is expanded to cover more varied diagnoses.
The significance of AI is that it can be pictured almost anywhere and is already beginning to shape all of the previous trends covered. AI chatbots are beginning to be used in telehealth, and by reducing workload and providing accurate diagnoses, AI is building toward patient-centered care. Because of this, AI is bound to spread in its use and may end up having a presence in all aspects of the industry. However, there will also be a lot of interest in creating suitable guidelines for the proper use of this rapidly evolving technology.
The Future of Healthcare
Going forward, the healthcare industry, and patients’ experience with it, are bound to transform, whether that be gradually or rapidly. The introduction of new technologies and the fallout of the pandemic have led to a burst of innovation, which was needed to tackle the unique circumstances we find ourselves in. The solutions discovered as a result of recent events will go on to shape how the healthcare industry operates, and as they are continually developed, they will hopefully lead to an industry that is smoother and more effective than ever before.