Health Care Disruptors to Watch in 2022

“Futuristic and disruptive technology implementation should be a key goal for every business. It ensures an efficient, intelligent, data-driven yet secure environment.”

Ashwin Muthiah, Chairman, AM International
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One of my favorite thought exercises during my fifteen-plus year tenure at Sg2 was to sit in a conference room at the end of every year with ten to fifteen really smart people (news flash – all my colleagues at Sg2 are really smart people, and I’m almost over my Imposter Syndrome) and have a spirited discussion on what we would include in our annual Disruptors to Watch webinar in January.

After doing that for so long, the exercise almost becomes a part of your professional DNA. So, in Q4 every year, I start looking at all of the Tech Trends for the next year online and thinking about what will rise to the top of my list. Unfortunately, you won’t get the collective benefit of my friends at Sg2 here, just one old guy’s opinion about the potential key technology disruptors in health care for 2022.

Before I begin, however, I want to acknowledge some thoughts shared by Nick Neral, Director, Panda Health, in a LinkedIn post this past week:

“If you research digital health trends of 2022, depending on the website, you’ll find “beyond” telemedicine, home health, digital therapeutics, predictive analytics and more. If you ask health systems what they’re actually working on the answer is very different…..Implementing nothing. (Yes, many don’t have the resources for anything new)….The digital health trend in 2022 and 2023 is going to be how can we do more with less.”

Nick Neral, Innovation & Strategy Director, Panda Health, LinkedIn post, December 9, 2021

I agree with Nick’s comments. He’s spot on here. In this environment, it’s challenging to try and implement new technologies when you’re running as hard as you can to handle the flood of patients jamming your ER and ICUs in the middle of a pandemic. My intention here is not to promote technology for technology’s sake, but to highlight technologies that I believe can remove some of the onerous administrative burdens we place on our front-line professionals and give them time back to do what they went into the profession for in the first place – care for patients and their families.

With that said, after working through my list of over fifty technologies that I’ve been tracking in 2021, here are my top picks for the coming year.

Voice technology takes center-stage

“We are at a very interesting time for healthcare and voice technology, because of the computing power. We’re already starting to see some radical changes in the way we experience the healthcare journey,”

Teri Fisher, physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia

I’ve written on this topic earlier this year. Since that July post, however, there have been several announcements that lead me to believe that 2022 will be the year that voice technology sees broader adoption. There have been advances in the ability for voice technology to advance telehealth progress, notably that a mix of modalities – between chatbots, text, and voice – will provide patients with the right tool for the right time in the right place. Dr. Fisher, quoted above, is the author of an excellent book on Voice Technology in Healthcare, published by HIMSS, that I highly recommend if you want a deep dive into the topic.

But why now? I believe three significant drivers will push this into the mainstream over the next twelve months: technology evolution, the ongoing pandemic, and big tech moves in health care. Let’s take them one at a time:

Voice technology evolution – As noted in the quote above, increases in computing power have accelerated the use of voice-assisted technology in health care. The global smart speaker market is poised to see a continued annual growth rate of nearly 24 percent through 2023, according to research by Technavio. Researchers expect massive market growth in the biomarker segment alone, reaching 147.59 billion USD by 2028. (For an excellent overview of this segment, here’s a link to a post from The Medical Futurist) An IHS Markit Technology report predicts more than 900,000 such devices will be used in healthcare by next year, and diverse initiatives are already in motion. Combining voice technology with AI and machine learning and coupling those with edge computing and faster 5G networks, you have a perfect storm for increasing adoption at multiple points along the care continuum.

The ongoing pandemic – Beyond just the use of voice-enabled chatbots and voice-enabled telephone triage systems, the pandemic has forced families to manage their health care issues, including dealing with kids or parents at a distance. This has created the demand for deploying smart speakers in the home, school, assisted-living facility, or other care locations to enable an easy, zero-user-interface way for loved ones to initiate calls, monitor activity, or deal with emergencies. Physicians have increased their use of voice-enabled technology to create visit records, thus minimizing the additional work required to complete EHR notes for patients.

Big tech moves – Last year, a pilot project at Cedars-Sinai placed 100 Amazon Echo devices in patient rooms throughout the hospital. Using an Alexa-powered platform, users may speak to access entertainment options and, if needed, request staff assistance. Boston Children’s Hospital targets parents with KidsMD, an Alexa skill that offers information about common ailments and medication dosing. Another, the Mayo Clinic First Aid skill, was launched by the Mayo organization to suggest care tips for non-emergency situations. Atlanta-based Thrive Senior Living is leveraging Google and Amazon smart speakers to support a custom suite of applications that route requests and questions to care teams. A test run found that residents liked the approach, and employees came better equipped to assist patients thanks to the information they received on a connected mobile app. And finally, in my Tech News This Week post last Saturday, I reported on Amazon’s announcement of their new direct-to-consumer subscription offering, Alexa Together, aimed at families caring for elderly members who are still living independently but need extra support. Here’s a short video highlighting how BayCare implemented Alexa devices in 2,500 patient rooms across 14 hospitals:

Video Credit: BayCare Health System, posted December, 2020

And, just yesterday, Microsoft announced it is shelling out a hefty $19.7 billion for Nuance Communications, a pioneer in voice recognition and natural language understanding, to bolster its ambitions in the healthcare market.

All of these point to 2022 being a significant inflection point in using voice-enabled technology in health care.

At-Home Lab Tests

This is another area that has seen rapid growth and development over several years. And the pandemic requirement for ongoing testing for COVID-19 got patients used to going to their local pharmacy and buying in-home tests regularly. Patients can access a wide range of analyses determining their lab markers and blood results. No need to meet anyone, go anywhere.

And there are countless at-home lab tests already cleared by the FDA. Here’s a link to the FDA database of cleared, over-the-counter lab tests. The rise of companies like imaware, EverlyWell, LetsGetChecked, Health Testing Centers, UltaWellness, Walk-In Lab, and MyLabBox has spurred continued growth in this area. For example, the imaware platform provides over 20 different types of advanced home-based health tests. The company also offers telemed physician oversight, helping people control their health. During the pandemic, they launched a collaboration with virtual care company Wheel to deliver clinician-administered at-home COVID tests. They will indeed have more ideas under development. Patients can get easy access to dozens of at-home tests. Here’s a link to the kits available from mylabbox.

Here’s a link to a comparison of Best Blood Tests based on In-Depth Reviews from Consumers

With market growth calculated to value over $7.6 billion by the end of 2028 and a CAGR of over 5.4% during the forecast period of 2021-2028, it seems clear that these will have a significant impact on testing and care coordination in the coming year.

Health Systems Data Companies – Data as the new health care currency

We’ve been hearing about big data and data as a strategic resource for over a decade now. But, there have been developments over the last eighteen months that signal that the industry has awoken to the fact that the trove of data they are sitting on is valuable and an asset to be mined.

Case in point – Truveta. Twenty of the largest U.S. health systems, led by Providence, have formed a startup to pool patient information, aiming to streamline efforts to analyze anonymous data to improve care, develop better therapies and drugs, and promote more equitable treatment of underrepresented groups. The Seattle-based startup is led by former Microsoft Corp. executive Terry Myerson, who ran the software maker’s Windows business. As of this writing, Truveta partners with around 20 medical providers, aggregating regular de-identified data from 42 American states and myriad patients representing about 16% of all U.S. clinical care into its collection. It has built a software service that allows researchers and other users to ask questions about the collected data. Here’s a short video featuring the Truveta Health System founders discussing their vision for saving lives by using data:

Video Credit: Truveta

“We want to allow people to study human health. When they do, we want to make sure they’re a studying data set that’s consistent with the whole population. The transparency, the data on the data, is something fundamental we want to bring to the table.”

Terry Myerson, CEO, Truveta, Health Evolution interview, February, 2021

Another example that generated a firestorm of protest and even led to a Federal investigation was Ascension Health’s partnership with Google. Ascension and Google say the project could lead to better outcomes for patients. Privacy experts also said it appears to be permissible under federal law. But one professor told the Journal “the optics are bad” because patients and doctors weren’t informed, and several U.S. senators expressed concern. It is unclear what the departure of Dr. David Feinberg to head Cerner means for the arrangement if anything. But the partnership is another example of the accelerating trend to aggregate, de-identify, mine, and monetize these vast data resources.

Want more proof? Beckers Healthcare did an outstanding job of reporting on the growth of these partnerships in 2021. As of their June posting, they identified 38 Big Tech partnerships in healthcare this year: Amazon, Google & more. The “horse is out of the barn” on this one. So don’t expect any slowdowns in the area in 2022.

Digital Health Insurance

Digital has begun to reshape health insurance markets. According to McKinsey, payers in the United States have been slow to digitize. They are still behind other industries in their use of artificial intelligence and automation, as well as in customer satisfaction. They’re now starting to catch up. Both incumbents and disruptors are making substantial and growing investments in digital programs.

Just last month, Bain Capital announced that Enhance Health, LLC, a new technology-enabled, digital health insurance brokerage and care navigation platform focused on serving the Medicare Advantage market, launched with $150 million of total capital. Headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Enhance Health will serve both the Medicare and individual and family plans segments of the health insurance market.

And, Enhance Health is not alone. Digital Insurance is another digital-first insurance company now adding healthcare to its portfolio of offerings. OneDigital went to market as the new generation in health and benefits. Focused on creating harmony between people and technology, today, OneDigital delivers benefits solutions, including a sophisticated combination of strategic advisory services, analytics, compliance support, technology, and HR capital management tools.

And, of course, there’s Oscar Health. Oscar Health Insurance began in 2012 and offers health insurance to residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Coverage may soon be available in other states. The Oscar app is downloadable and compatible with Android and iOS. The app offers 24/7 doctor-on-call services. The company operates in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System. The company provides health insurance wellness incentives for being active, tracked using free wearables. There are low-deductible options available. There are five tier plans—secure, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—covering between 60% and 80% of medical expenses.

“Ten years from now, I think we’ll have contributed to lowering health-care costs, and that remains our far end goal and what we do everything at Oscar.”

Mario Schlosser, CEO, Oscar Health, Interview, Yahoo Finance, March, 2021

There are real benefits that will continue to drive these developments. Those payers that invest thoughtfully in human-centric digital transformation are beginning to see the value, including material changes in member satisfaction and trust, increased revenue from digital branding and improved sales tools, and double-digit reductions in administrative costs. In addition, stronger member relationships are often leading to lower medical costs. Watch this space…..

Cognitive Automation Takes On Administrative Work

Cognitive automation is a new and fast-emerging technology in digital transformation. It is one of the key IT trends in healthcare, and its popularity is expected to increase in 2022. Cognitive automation generally combines natural language processing, machine learning, and computer vision technologies into a platform to increase decision velocity in health care.

This technology makes it possible to process zettabytes of data within seconds, thereby providing decision-makers with recommendations readily available and backed with real-time data. The end goal of this emerging healthcare technology is to establish a self-driving enterprise whereby operational processes are automated.

Cognitive computing has also enhanced patient engagement and improved access to services. Researchers are leveraging the potential of cognitive systems to make clinical trials more comprehensive and valuable, making this a critical technology development in health care. Key players operating in the cognitive computing in the healthcare market include Apixio, MedWhat, Healthcare X.0, Apple Inc., Saffron Technology, Inc., Nuance Communications, Inc., Google LLC, Microsoft Corporation, and IBM Corporation.

“Technology should work for people, not the other way around.”

Brad Becker, former Chief Design Officer for IBM Watson, Knowledge@Wharton interview, November, 2014

The global cognitive computing and analytics market has been projected to be valued at $95 billion by 2022, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 42.9% during the forecast period. North America, followed by Europe, is expected to be the most significant revenue-generating region for the cognitive analytics vendors in the next five years. So, a lot of investment in the space coupled with a pressing need to remove some of the administrative and operational burdens from the shoulders of front-line health care professionals will drive the growth in this area over the next eighteen to twenty-four months.

2022 will be another challenging year in health care. We’ll still see pressure on our systems from the ongoing pandemic. Investments in new technology will be constrained because of financial and resource availability. I’m betting that many posts you’ll see from me next year will focus on the issue of – time: giving time back to our frontline professionals to provide care, having patients spend less time navigating the complexities of our crazy health system, reducing the time to diagnosing and treating diseases, and creating time to allow everyone to achieve a healthy balance in our lives. If any of the technologies I’ve listed above can help us accomplish that, we all win.

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