In 2020, we experienced a year like no other in history. The global pandemic shut down society, slowed the global economy, and put pressure on the healthcare system as nothing in generations has done. As tough as the year was on healthcare, the industry did rise to the challenge in 2020–an accomplishment for which healthcare workers and companies should be very proud.
Each year sets the table and foreshadows trends that can be expected in the subsequent year. The pandemic-driven chaos of 2020 will likely lead to a chain retraction in 2021 wherein healthcare trends will move even faster and more aggressively than in years past.
What trends will we see in healthcare in the coming year? Here, we will look at 2020 for clues and project this information forward to make educated guesses about what 2021 will bring. These are four healthcare trends to expect in 2021.
1. Increased emphasis on mental health
You could say this for every trend on this list but we’ll mention it first, right here. This is a trend that has long been coming but the events of 2020 have supercharged the need for and growth of mental health care. Over the course of the last decade or so, mental health issues have gradually become destigmatized, as society has gained an increased understanding of how important mental health is, and what a big role it plays in both overall and physical health.
Lockdowns and social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health issues and created new one for people around the globe. Social distancing and quarantine may actually be keeping people physically healthier heading into 2021, but it is also creating a worldwide mental health crisis.
The coming year will see healthcare rising to meet this challenge. Adding mental health screening components and counseling to normal courses of diagnosis and treatment will become the norm. Addressing mental health issues during the wind-down of the coronavirus is going to be the key to limiting the ripple effect the virus has long after it’s gone.
2. Digital health continues to accelerate
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge boom for digital health products. As Orthogonal notes, digital health is already accelerating rapidly, but that trend line is likely to continue in 2021. Digital health solutions that have been growing in acceptance and use in the healthcare world and have accelerated rapidly including such digital products as connected mobile medical devices (CMMD) and Software as a Medical Device (SaMD).
These digital healthcare solutions are making providers’ jobs easier by making patient care more mobile and portable, giving them more powerful computing tools than ever, and allowing patients to take a more active and empowered role in their care.
These types of digital health products also offer healthcare professionals something incredibly important in the pandemic and coming post-pandemic era. This is a fast feedback loop that allows for quick and continuous technological improvements. Facing ever-changing and previously unseen challenges, the fact that improvements in digital health devices can come very fast after feedback with a simple software update is a huge boon for the users.
Digital healthcare is certain to be a major trend for 2021 because of all the benefits it provides patients and industry professionals. Look for digital health to start becoming the norm in 2021 as more people acquire healthcare devices in the form of apps on phones and doctors and nurses making use of these devices to provide remote care or become ever more efficient on-site in a hospital or other medical facility.
3. Telehealth becomes the norm
At a time when we could not physically be together, the technology that connected us face-to-face became much more important. This is true in personal life, in business, and the healthcare industry. FaceTiming with grandparents, Zoom meetings with colleagues, and telehealth appointments with your physician all became a normal part of life in 2020.
In addition to keeping people healthy by maintaining a greater social distance during medical appointments, telehealth provided many other benefits to both patients and healthcare workers–which is why this trend will certainly continue into 2021 and beyond.
On the healthcare side, telehealth allowed healthcare professionals to effectively perform triage for patients and evaluate if an in-person visit was necessary. It saved time, allowing workers to see more patients in a shorter amount of time. This practice will save money down the road because the more patients who are seen virtually, the less physical patient care space a practice or medical facility will need to have.
On the patient side, telehealth also saved time and money. Without having to get in the car or on public transportation to visit a doctor’s office for minor issues, patients were still able to get high-quality medical consultations. This was particularly beneficial to economically disadvantaged patients and patients with ambulatory issues.
When a technology is benefits both professionals and patients, it will surely continue to be a trend for the coming year. While telehealth will never fully replace a visit to a medical facility, it will curb the need for many visits which will fundamentally change the look and pace of the healthcare industry in 2021 and for years to come.
4. Bigger emphasis on population health
One of the larger and more important lessons from COVID is that the virus does not have an equal effect on all populations. Older patients, patients with underlying health conditions, and communities of color were disproportionately downed by the coronavirus. The fact that certain diseases attack certain populations with more fervor is true not only of COVID-19 but of many other diseases from cancer to AIDS to diabetes, as well as other diseases.
Using big data produced by the healthcare industry in 2021, medical professionals will be able to better isolate disease clusters and get a better, clearer picture of exactly which populations are more significantly affected by certain health conditions. By focusing on and studying the underlying factors causing these issues within certain populations, the medical community will be able to find better solutions to improve the health of a number of at-risk populations.
No one can predict the future but, by analyzing the year past, we can make educated guesses on what is to come. The year 2020 gave us more ability than ever to analyze the healthcare industry. What we can ascertain from this info is that the pandemic has accelerated certain trends for the coming year. In 2021, it is very likely we will see mental health, digital health products, telehealth, and population health all become even more important than they are in 2020.