Five major health technology trends in 2021
It was a big year for the healthcare industry. As COVID-19 continued to push everyone to the limit, remarkable innovations and breakthroughs emerged. Health technology has reached new heights, both in what it can do and in the number of organizations that use it.
Although the field of medical technologies is vast and diverse, a few specific trends have overtaken the rest this year. Here’s a look back at the five biggest health tech trends of 2021 and how they could shape the future of medicine.
By far, the most important technology trend of the year in healthcare was telehealth. Technologies that allow patients to access medical care from anywhere have become hugely popular as COVID has made in-person hospital visits less appealing. Telehealth use is now 38 times higher than it was before the pandemic, and it will likely continue to grow.
The rapid adoption of telehealth over the past two years is mainly due to COVID, but its potential goes further. When patients don’t have to move around or sit in waiting rooms, it’s easier to see a doctor. Widespread use of these technologies can then break down economic barriers to quality health care.
Since these technologies are so much more efficient than in-person visits, they also allow doctors to see more patients in a day. Hospitals can capitalize on this technology to save more lives than ever before.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has flourished in many industries, and healthcare is no exception. AI could analyze patient data to recommend treatment pathways or make diagnoses, potentially revolutionizing medicine in the future. Some of its main use cases in 2021, however, were more mundane but still very beneficial.
Overcrowded and understaffed hospitals have started using AI to automate tasks to help them run more efficiently. Two of the leading electronic health record (EHR) systems introduced voice-enabled digital assistants in 2020, leading to increased use of AI in 2021. While these improvements may seem minor, the time savings in hospitals can save lives.
Some medical organizations have also started using AI to predict how best to use their resources. As finances tightened throughout the year, these insights helped healthcare companies manage their assets more efficiently and stay afloat.
A less hyped but equally valuable technology that saw a rise in healthcare was digital twins. This technology was already developing before 2021, with many dental companies using 3D scans of patients’ teeth to personalize aligners. It has, however, reached new heights in the past year.
According to a survey, 25% of healthcare executives have experienced digital twins this year. Similarly, 66% expect their investments in these technologies to increase over the next three years. This should come as no surprise, as digital twins allow companies to test new products, experiment with new layouts, and visualize procedures without costly and slow physical processes.
Digital twins of an area or a patient could allow healthcare professionals to run endless simulation scenarios. After all the surprises of the COVID-19 pandemic, that kind of preparedness is hard to argue with.
Wearables are one of the hottest tech trends in consumer circles, and the healthcare industry has also started taking notice. These handy devices make it easier for medical companies to collect patient data or provide care remotely. Users can also use them to better control their health.
The latest Apple Watches, for example, include heart monitoring and automatic alerts that trigger an emergency. Features like this give you better insight into your health and allow you to seek help faster if you need it. As telehealth becomes more common, hospitals can use these devices that patients already have to communicate with them.
Over the past year, more and more wearables have come with built-in health features. They also come in more forms than ever, from smart rings to connected masks. As these trends continue, healthcare will become more accessible and agile.
Despite the high-tech treatments they often use, healthcare organizations are notoriously behind on office and administrative equipment. That changed in 2021. The heightened pressure of the pandemic has caused many hospitals to finally embrace the cloud.
Cloud service providers have helped this transition by offering new solutions. In late 2020, Google launched its Cloud Healthcare Interoperability Readiness Program, which provided templates, guidelines, and tools for implementing cloud systems. Offerings like this have helped organizations unfamiliar with cloud technology jump into the digital age.
This change will help hospitals in the future become much more efficient. The cloud allows faster and easier sharing of medical files, helping different healthcare organizations to collaborate. It will also be easier to manage patient data and reduce management costs.
No one would claim that 2021 has been an easy year, especially for the healthcare industry. However, some positive changes have come out of these widespread challenges. Medical technology is currently experiencing something of a renaissance, advancing at a remarkable rate. 2021 has seen many impressive changes in the medical technology space. These changes will make health care more accessible, affordable, efficient and effective than ever. While the past year has been the industry’s biggest challenge in decades, it can also be a turning point.
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Last updated November 11, 2021.