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Healthcare Unchained in 2021 and beyond: Key Trends and Enablers in the New Frontier

| January 5, 2021 | By

by Dr. Rob Nelson –

Healthcare feels like it’s been on the verge of transformation for years, if not decades. But in a matter of months, the pandemic broke down long-standing barriers and accelerated digital health at a pace few could have imagined. I like to use my own healthcare consumer experiences as a gauge. For example, twice during this pandemic, I’ve experienced telehealth first hand – one with a specialist and one for urgent care. While we have been dipping our toe into the realm of virtual care and telehealth for years, I’d like to say that the “chains on healthcare have been broken” in 2020. Every firm had to become a tech company in 2020. Consider that for minor and routine appointments, the number of virtual visits has skyrocketed during the pandemic. It is estimated by Forrester analysts to be one billion at the end of 2020.  As we have had to experience worldwide, AI and IoT improve our ability to detect and respond to future outbreaks. They enable the “smart cities,” which utilize digital connectivity and automated data-driven decision-making into daily life—the ability to stay connected from anywhere – including on medical devices. We are headed in the Sentient Enterprise; Agile, Hyper-Automated with a Digital Workforce fueled by real-time, streaming, intelligent analytics.

In my most recent doctor’s visit, I had sustained a painful contusion to my leg during Muay Thai kickboxing. It was just severe enough to warrant being checked out. It was late, urgent care was closed, and the only option was the ER – not exactly the prime destination during a pandemic. So, I opted to try Teledoc. In a matter of minutes (frankly, faster and with less hassle), I was being seen by a friendly doctor who asked me questions and visually examined my leg. The conclusion was, sleep on it and get an x-ray in the next couple of days. The pervasiveness of this type of care and even more, such as with clinical device remote management, will only continue. What is possible now with technology is truly impressive. More importantly, we see the evolution of critical enablers like frictionless experiences and hyper-automation. For example, my Teledoc experience was pretty good. However, even more of it could be automated, including after-care support and scheduling. Those who do that better will win. In this case, who would get that X-Ray Appointment? That could be heavily influenced through a well-designed, highly personalized journey.

Innovation in the healthcare industry is rapidly accelerating due to the aging population, the rising prevalence of chronic diseases, infrastructure advancements, evolving care models, higher labor costs due to staff shortages, and the expansion1,  merger, and integration of healthcare systems. These trends are not new – but the conditions and environment they are occurring in require more resilient organizations and strategic agility – more than ever.

So, indeed, now is the time of Healthcare “unchained”…The course of what is possible and acceptable by way of technology-driven change has been diverted this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As my Teledoc primary care physician stated, “you do not want to go to the ER during this time of the pandemic.”  But the reality is, like most consumers (pandemic or no), I didn’t want to get up and trek to a clinic in the late evening and go through that process. I just wanted someone to look at my leg real quick and tell me if they think it is broken and if I needed an X-Ray. That is the demand of consumerism. And, like a Lyft share ride, I got my clinical service on my phone, fast and helpful to just want I needed – and no ER visit. And, like our sharing economy, I may never see that fabulous provider again – who I am quite sure was also working from home herself.

On a physician advisory board for cardiac care / implanted devices for a leading medical device manufacturer, I was taken by the astonishing degree that physicians were willing and wanting to break chains and push the envelope for remote and virtual care that they would have shunned or not entertained just two years ago. These simple examples reflect the unprecedented influence the pandemic has on trends as we advance, including:

  • Telemedicine & mobile healthcare experiences are becoming the standard
  • Using data and technology to drive advancements in patient care
  • Widespread process changes and technology adoption to create a more resilient, flexible industry2

As I write, we are still in that spot where the US, the future healthcare model, remains to play out as a new administration takes a seat amid the congress’s potential to change power. Whether we advance towards more socialized, government-funded programs and a single-payer system or to a more competitive private payer market, the absolute pressure on cost, access, and quality remains the same has for years. We still have a clinician shortage of great magnitude, an aging population. Anyone in Healthcare knows the age-old “Iron Triangle” of Cost, Quality, and Access. That has not changed.  Meanwhile, healthcare providers continue to focus on how to better for less – like the ability to operate on tight financial margins under a Medicare system.

But in 2020, with the pandemic, the paradigm has changed forever. What is possible and acceptable has genuinely changed. And for Healthcare, this is genuinely a “Harness the moment” time. Going into 2021, here are some significant trends to consider :

  • Hyper-growth of telehealth: COVID-19 has pushed telehealth into the mainstream, and adoption has gained impressive traction. Expect expansions of asynchronous virtual care leveraging integrated wearable technologies. This includes more remote, virtual solutions, including medical devices.
  • Reimagining Clinical and Operational Workflows: The current landscape has underscored the importance of improving workflows, achieving greater clinical efficiencies, and better-integrating data across organizations through tools like natural language processing, remote process automation, hyper-automation, and cloud-based technologies.
  • Unleashing Real-Time, Streaming Data, and Analytics and AI to drive a Sentient Enterprise: With more healthcare data available, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies will provide more incredible speed and insights to analyze and predict outcomes that drive change inpatient care. Healthcare evolution will be characterized by reengineering clinical care and operations around digital health and pervasive real-time use of data and advanced analytics.
  • Revolutionary Focus on Multi-channel Optimization: Now more than ever, as in my Teledoc example, healthcare organizations must build a multi-channel digital experience portfolio to deliver personalized consumer-centric experiences that drive engagement and reduce costs.
  • Leveling-up Expanding Interoperability, Secure Data Exchange and Data Infrastructure: With increasing emphasis on cross-platform systems like EHR, CRM, CMS, virtual health, etc.) and cross-organizational data portability including advanced APIs and interoperability should ensure secure and efficient data exchanges between EHR systems, devices, and various channels of care. This includes developing supporting data infrastructure and pipelines beyond clinical care for Customer/Patient 360 supported by Data Factories and a Trusted Data Foundation.
  • Accelerating Delivery of Tech-Enabled Consumer Experiences to support Customer Focus – and Consumerism. The future of care is convenient and virtual-first but designed around the customers’ needs to take actionable steps to achieve a reimagined customer experience into hyper-personalized, frictionless experiences and clinical care.

So, to follow on that last bullet item topic on consumerism, I’d like to hover on the topic of Consumerism in 2021 and beyond as it is worth an extra emphasis. Any healthcare executive knows that provider loyalty was on shaky ground even before the pandemic, especially among younger digital-first consumers. Consistent across consumer industries and with our experience at RCG Global Services, research shows, consumers are wanting a multi-touch, digitally-enabled experience. And they’re willing to shop for what they are looking for.

The trend of consumerism isn’t new. But, with the pandemic as an accelerator, Healthcare — like other major sectors — is moving toward a consumer-centered model where people can shop for care and share data with an endless array of apps and services to personalize their health experiences: “hyper-personalization.” To deliver, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence generate insights to more deeply engage and support people to achieve their health goals and outcomes.

Customer insight, understanding customers more profoundly are essential. It is vital to use AI and advanced analytics to map the full lifecycle of key personas or the entire patient or customer journey’s in critical scenarios to capture the engagement between the customer, care teams, technology, and data. The goal is to understand the current workflows and experience to reimagine an ideal future-state journey: reduce customer pain points,  streamline hand-offs between customers, care teams, and partners, and improve technology functionality and data collection drive Intelligent Healthcare.

Considering these key trends, Healthcare Organizations need to map out and execute effectively how to meet consumers where they are going to improve value and outcomes.  Healthcare organizations need to innovate and roadmap the steps they can take to partner, not just build, and evolve toward thriving health ecosystems. This entails the need for integration, data, analytics, and digital transformation. Here is a starter list of five essential enablers to helping drive success:

  1. Digital Transformation Strategic Roadmaps
  2. AI Blueprints and Roadmaps, AI and Automation Centers of Excellence: For example, Re-calibrating the digital transformation and AI roadmap is a critical step in adjusting to the times and evaluating and prioritizing which initiatives an organization can best address the most significant pain points in the customer-patient experience use cases for advanced analytics and AI.  Healthcare organizations need to establish an ongoing cycle of input and evaluation.
  3. Expand the Digital Workforce: developing a digital workforce with robotic and autonomous healthcare assistants capable of working in hospitals, behind the scenes, or right in people’s homes.
  4. Expand more sophisticated and scaled use of AI and predictive modeling.
    • Deeper “Customer DNA” assessment, mapping and as well as Churn Reduction and Loyalty Improvement
    • Operations and workflow optimization and re-imagination
    • Sentient marketing and engagement
  5. Creating and using Innovation hubs to facilitate the needed white space to hypothesize and experiment with agility and purpose – accelerate and scale innovation.

There no question that the healthcare sector remains to be one of the most exciting industries right now. We are all looking forward to a post-pandemic operating environment, but we know there is a new normal. This new normal is slippery and rapidly changing as is the virus.

What are the key actions you can take in 2021 to accelerate success, increase strategic agility, leverage the tremendous innovation, and learn from 2020 to truly break a new frontier of “healthcare unchained” in truly an increasingly sentient organization?

What is your organizational strategy, priorities, and plan to combine data and AI and analytics, hyper-automation, and digital workers to make high-frequency decisions, frictionless and highly-personalized experience without human intervention (where that makes sense) to deliver better care and improve customer/patient loyalty?

The future of Healthcare is now, and Healthcare technology and services companies are playing a pivotal role in the ability of patients and healthcare providers to adapt and maximize their care. Healthcare providers and industry players like med device companies succeed by partnering and innovating – and breaking chains.

2021 is a landmark year in the adventure into the new healthcare frontier of “healthcare unchained.” I’d love to hear your thoughts! Send a note to


Three directions for development | Business, Energy … –  (Sourced December 20, 2020)

Accelerating healthcare : Top 3 digital trends for 2021, Dept Agency – (Accessed December 20, 2020)