Five Digital Health Trends That Emerged Before COVID-19 Have Since Accelerated

A majority of executives believe technology has become an inseparable part of the human experience in a recent survey. However, a bit more than half of those execs said advancements in new technologies and scientific innovations are positioned to disrupt the industry.

Based on a recent Accenture survey constructed of 259 payer and provider healthcare executives, the report notes the vast majority, or 85%, of executives believe technology has become an inseparable part of the human experience. However, a bit more than half of those polled said rapid advancements in new technologies and scientific innovations are positioned to disrupt their industry.

Nonetheless, technology is still evolving and is becoming more of a necessity in the healthcare industry with or without the reasoning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The intersection between digital technology and healthcare experiences has certainly accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and leading the future of care will demand rethinking core assumptions about the intersection of people and technology,” says Dr. Kaveh Safavi, a senior managing director in Accenture’s Health practice. “People’s perceptions of and relationships with technology are changing, and to adapt, healthcare payers and providers need to redesign digital experiences.”

The research found 69% of healthcare payers and providers are already piloting or adopting artificial intelligence, which will enable fluid interactions between human and machines. Yet only 39% said they have inclusive design or human-centric design principles in place to support human-machine collaboration, the report says.

Additionally, more than two-thirds, or 71%, of the executives believe robotics will enable the next generation of services in the physical world. However, 54% believe their employees will be challenged to figure out how to work with robots.

“The use of robotics is especially exciting in healthcare, where need has no boundaries and workers are already spread thin,” Safavi says. “But as robotic capabilities extend beyond controlled environments, healthcare organizations will face new challenges around talent investments, data collection, and human-machine interaction and collaboration.”

The report argues despite benefiting broadly from technology, people are expressing concerns about how and for what it’s used. Seventy percent of healthcare consumers who polled said they are concerned about data privacy and commercial tracking associated with their online activities, behaviors, location and interests. The same number of consumers also said they expect their relationship with technology to be more prominent in their lives over the next three years.

With 78% of the healthcare provider and payer executives saying they believe the stakes for innovation have never been higher. The report notes “getting it right” will require new ways of innovating with ecosystem partners and third-party organizations.

Five digital health trends that have been accelerating during this journey, according to the report, are:

  • The I in Experience - People today expect more from their digital experiences. They want to feel important and as if the healthcare organization recognizes and takes notice of them. Gone are the days of mass services and black box personalization.
  • AI and Me - This year’s AI and Me trend explores how leading organizations are fostering human-AI collaboration at the frontline. Healthcare organizations have plugged AI and other tech tools into existing workflows, focusing on automation and execution.
  • The Dilemma of Smart Things - Enterprises are beginning to design updateable products with the ability to expand services and experiences in the future, making it possible to respond to changing customer demands and expectations at a moment’s notice. Healthcare organizations must recognize this new “co-ownership” paradigm with customers and work to design their products and ecosystems to accommodate ongoing change. In the short term, smart and updatable devices are becoming tools in the fight against COVID-19.
  • Robots in the Wild - COVID-19 has moved robots out of warehouses and factories and into the spotlight. The rollout of 5G networks along with lower hardware costs to make robot technology will unlock opportunities for all industries to extend their autonomous capabilities outside of contained settings like production facilities—and into the open world. This is especially exciting in healthcare where need has no boundaries and workers are already spread thin.
  • Innovation DNA - Just as human DNA determines individual traits, innovation DNA will define an organization as it grows into the future. Innovation DNA has building blocks: maturing digital technology that is more commoditized and accessible; scientific advancements that are discrete yet deeply disruptive; and emerging distributed ledgers, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing (DARQ) technologies poised to scale rapidly.

“COVID-19 has not slowed digital technology innovation; rather, it’s amplifying it to historic levels,” Safavi says. “Given the current environment, healthcare organizations must elevate their technology agenda to explore emerging digital technologies that provide the right infrastructure to help people feel safer about using technology tools for their healthcare experience.”