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Healthcare 2020 trends emphasize virtual, holistic patient care

Forrester Research and Frost & Sullivan say telehealth and social determinants of health data analytics platforms will gain ground in 2020.

Lowering the price of healthcare will be top of mind in 2020. For healthcare CIOs, that could mean investing in telehealth tools and analytics platforms that are geared toward making healthcare more accessible, less expensive and more personal.

Two reports on healthcare 2020 predictions lay out potential trends facing healthcare organizations in the new year. Forrester Research's report focuses on healthcare reform efforts as well as the rise in telehealth. Frost & Sullivan's report highlights the role social determinants of health data analytics platforms will play in 2020 and predicts a backlash against AI in healthcare.

The detailed healthcare 2020 reports have been pared down here for healthcare CIOs, highlighting tech trends like telehealth and data analytics platforms.

Telehealth visits will increase

Forrester believes virtual care will grow substantially, predicting that providers will conduct millions of new virtual visits in 2020.

Jeff Becker, an analyst at Forrester and one of the authors of the "Predictions 2020: Healthcare" report, called telehealth "the fastest growing place of service across all care delivery touchpoints" where "everybody is rushing in to claim a stake."

Jeff BeckerJeff Becker

One of the drivers behind the growth in virtual visits is the desire to control patient inflow to brick-and-mortar care delivery systems, Becker said.

Engaging patients in the home, workplace or other convenient locations first and helping them make a decision on the right place to seek medical care can reduce what Becker called the "drastic overuse of an emergency room."

Historical outpatient claims data suggests that about 43% of outpatient visits could be addressed through a virtual care visit, according to Forrester, pointing to telehealth as one option healthcare CIOs should look at to reduce costs associated with care delivery.

Social determinants of health in 2020

Another healthcare 2020 prediction is that social determinants of health data will play a big role in how payers and health systems improve patient outcomes, and healthcare CIOs will need to key in on tools like analytics platforms to make use of that data, according to Frost & Sullivan.

Frost & Sullivan analysts predict that by the end of 2020, 40% of U.S. health systems and insurance companies will use social determinants of health data, such as income and housing status, to make risk assessments or business decisions, as well as conduct patient outreach.

Kamaljit BeheraKamaljit Behera

Factors driving its growth include an understanding that most of a patient's health outcomes are attributable to factors beyond direct medical care, according to Kamaljit Behera, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

We believe proactively engaging the right patients based on their social determinant of health can improve health outcomes.
Kamaljit BeheraAnalyst, Frost & Sullivan

"57% [of patients] have a moderate to high risk for financial insecurity, isolation, housing insecurity, transportation and food insecurity, among others," Behera said during a webinar on healthcare 2020 predictions. "We believe proactively engaging the right patients based on their social determinant of health can improve health outcomes and help healthcare organizations meet quality standards."

Frost & Sullivan believes that within the next five years, social determinants of health data will become critical for improving patients' quality of care, as well as optimizing the cost of care. In lockstep, health IT products such as population health management platforms that track and analyze patient outcomes will also gain prominence.

AI growth, challenges

The AI in medical imaging market will cross the $400 million mark in 2020, but Behera said that AI companies have a tough road ahead. He believes they will need to rethink how they use data, train algorithms and implement AI to convince the healthcare community of no-harm use.

Medical imaging, or radiology, is one of the most mature areas for AI and clinical use cases, Behera said. Yet even in radiology, the use of AI will be checked in 2020.

"AI in the recent past has advanced tremendously. Its ability for diagnosing and detecting disease is climbing higher and higher, but the very important question still remains, what happens if something goes wrong," Behera said.

The safest way for physicians to use AI is to confirm a diagnosis rather than improve care with new insights, Behera said. Due to this caution, health IT vendors will continue to make non-clinical applications of AI such as workflow automation the priority. Additionally, Behera said roughly 75% of AI companies in medical imaging will continue to focus on image analysis as the main AI use case.

"Things look promising in AI more from an operational and workstream optimization [standpoint], but we still have quite a way to go before getting into real support in the clinical decision-making process leveraged by AI solutions," Behera said.

On healthcare reform

Healthcare's big price tag will take center stage next year as voters hear from presidential candidates and prepare to cast their votes.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have championed a "Medicare for All" plan or option, which would expand a federal health insurance program historically geared at those 65 and older or managing certain disabilities to everyone.

The full Medicare for All plan would introduce a federally funded public insurance plan to U.S. citizens and eliminate private health insurance, eliminating 900 health insurers and 507,000 employees, according to the Forrester healthcare 2020 report.

"When I dug into the numbers, it didn't surprise me that I came to the conclusion that Medicare for All in its current definition would fail," Forrester's Becker said. "What did surprise me is how much uptick there is in support of a public option and how much legislative movement there is for, not a single payer system, but a secondary public option."

According to the Forrester healthcare 2020 report, voter support in the U.S. is low for a Medicare for All plan, but 70% of voters would support a public plan option that preserves the option of private insurance. 

The report noted that providers have mixed feelings about a public insurance option. While more coverage means less uncompensated care, Medicare patients generate lower reimbursement rates than patients covered under private insurance contracts.

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