We are in a digital era. It is undeniable that technology plays a large role in everyday life and will continue to do so in the future. Technology—specifically within health care—is advancing at an exponential rate. A study performed by Accenture found that 85% of health execs acknowledge that technology has become an inextricable part of the human experience.
As consumer expectations continue to lean towards immediacy and transparency, especially when it comes to their health, there is an increasing demand for digital health technologies. Digital health is the integration of digital technologies with health care to improve the efficiency and personalization of care delivery. Digital health technologies include electronic health records, wearable devices, AI tools, telemedicine and more.
While the industry may have been slow to adapt in previous years, COVID-19 and the changing landscape of today’s world is catapulting us towards digital health care.
The health care industry faces a consistent and growing demand for innovation. Patients and providers both want to see higher quality care and lower costs. Technology and data promise to help make this happen.
While technology has always had a place in the health care industry, the introduction of electronic health records (EHR) brought data to the forefront. The amount of information coming in, mostly in real-time, is incredible. IBM found that the total amount of health data was expected to double every 73 days in 2020.
With the enormous amount of data being collected, it is not difficult to see why it is categorized as “Big Data”. The data sets created by incoming health data are too large to be stored, analyzed or processed in traditional systems. Cloud computing is a necessity when dealing with Big Data, so these go hand-in-hand.
Instead of the user-based computer storage system, cloud computing uses a network of internet-based servers to remotely store and process the data being collected. Cloud-based technologies provide a cost effective and convenient solution to health care providers and patients.
We are seeing a significant shift towards preventive medicine in recent years. With the reliance on digital technologies, we are also seeing an increase in the expectation for on-demand health care.
Technology has progressed enough to meet this demand. Advancing technologies and cloud-based systems have allowed for a growth in the options available when it comes to wearable health technologies. Wearable digital health devices are now available for a variety of uses. Patients, and providers, can choose from fitness trackers, ECG devices, blood pressure monitors, blood glucose monitors, oximeters and more when it comes to remote health monitoring. These technologies are proving to lower the need for inpatient care and provide a more personalized experience for patients.
With the rise in wearable devices, telehealth appointments and other medical devices and digital health software, we have seen the introduction of an Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), or health care IoT. Any digital health device that can connect to the internet and network with the cloud platform is part of the IoMT. This cloud-based system collects, stores and shares the data from digital health technologies and software. Data collected and shared builds the base for emerging telehealth.
Telehealth is on the rise, propelled further and faster by COVID-19. This continued shift towards telehealth will only increase the demand for wearable technology and the need for an IoMT.
Still in its early stages, artificial intelligence (AI) is breaking into the health care industry, too. While it may be new, it is growing rapidly. AI technologies and tools utilized in health care settings are expected to surpass a total revenue opportunity of $35 billion by 2025 according to this market analysis.
The use of big data in health care is helping to fuel the shift towards artificial intelligence and machine learning in the medical field. There are infinite possibilities for its use in medical settings and it is projected to continue lowering costs. Expect to see more emerging AI-based devices and technologies in health care in the next few years.
Telehealth is not a new technology, but it is one we are relying on more. Physicians’ usage of telehealth services increased 340% between 2015 and 2019. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual appointments have increased 15 – 20 times.
This shift towards telehealth is not expected to decline. In fact, studies have found that we may see 1 in 3 medical appointments conducted virtually in the near future. The use of telemedicine and virtual appointments is cutting costs and saving valuable time for both patients and providers.
Blockchain is most associated with cryptocurrency, but it is not confined to that industry. This is a secure shared digital ledger that is expected to drastically improve interoperability.
Blockchain can decentralize medical records and create a more accurate, secure system. It is expected to prevent data breaches, lower costs and provide even more accurate comprehensive medical records.
Unfortunately, the current lack of standardization in the way data is collected, stored and shared in EHRs and other digital health technologies creates a barrier for blockchain-based systems. The current pandemic has highlighted many of these issues, opening the discussion for change; so we may see this barrier eliminated in the near future.
The trends in digital health and health care technologies are influenced by the trends we see in the health care industry and patient populations.
Despite our declining overall health, we have longer life expectancies than ever before. In addition to a longer living population, the largest generation is aging into Medicare. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be older than 65.
In recent years, we have seen a significant shift away from fee-for-service (FFS) systems. Health care is moving towards a value-based model. Value-based health care provides better quality care for patients, better outcomes, and lower costs for patients and providers.
Despite our increased access to knowledge and medical care, Americans are still not healthy overall. An expected 57% increase in chronic diseases by 2020 was predicted. It was also projected that chronic diseases would account for nearly 75% of deaths worldwide.
The current pandemic has had a significant, and unsurprising, impact on the health care industry. Digital health technologies and services are more in-demand and needed than ever before.
From telehealth to artificial intelligence, COVID-19 has changed the health care landscape for years to come.
Today’s reliance on technology has led to an expectation of transparency, ease of use and immediacy. Patients want access to health care on-demand and online.
The majority of patients want access to their medical histories. They want appointments that suit their schedules and their needs. They want digital health apps, more outpatient services and less time in the doctor’s office.
The changes and innovations in the health care industry are increasing the need for health care IT roles. While there is an average 4% job growth rate in all industries, health care positions, particularly those related to digital health, are expected to increase at 15% from 2019-29.
Medical Database Administrators (DBAs) are responsible for the database environment, maintaining integrity and security of the systems. They will provide system maintenance, write programs and fix bugs. This role is projected to have a job growth rate of 10% from 2019-29.
Health information managers, sometimes referred to as health care data analysts, health care business analysts or health data scientists, gather and interpret data collected from various digital health technologies. This role was included on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Fastest Growing Occupations List for 2020. It has a projected growth rate of 32%.
Often referred to as health care executives or health care administrators, medical health and services managers plan, direct and coordinate medical and health services. Depending on the industry they choose and their specific role, they may manage entire facilities or specific departments. This type of role was included on the Fastest Growing Occupations List for 2020 with a projected growth rate of 32%.
Health care information security analysts maintain the security of the digital health databases and systems used by a health care organization. This position was also listed on the Fastest Growing Occupations List for 2020 with a projected growth rate of 31%.
Health information technicians collect, organize, maintain and process the medical information provided by and for patients. They work collaboratively with other health care providers and typically have hands-on interaction with EHRs. This role has a projected growth rate of 8%.
The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) provides a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program that prepares graduates for positions in applied health informatics. Graduates hold digital health care positions in leadership, analytics and technology.
If you’re interested in a career in digital health and health informatics, you can learn more about the MSHI program.