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Digital health predictions for 2020 from industry experts

Over the past year, we’ve seen a number of initiatives that aim to accelerate the use of digital tools and services for healthcare announced in Europe and the Middle East.

Most recently, the Mayo Clinic revealed that it would be working with the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company to bring the latest technologies to Shaikh Shakhbout Medical City. Meanwhile, the federal parliament in Germany passed in November the Digital Supply Law proposed by health minister Jens Spahn. This means that doctors will be able to prescribe apps to their patients, which can be reimbursed by the German statutory health insurance, a step forward for a country that has not been seen as a frontrunner in this race so far.

But these are just a few examples of the work that is being carried out to ensure clinicians no longer have to struggle with outdated technology, and patients have better access to care.

With 2019 drawing to an end, we reached out to 16 experts from Europe and the Middle East to find out what they think the year ahead will bring to the digital health space.

Read their predictions below.

Hassan Chaudhury, digital health specialist, Healthcare UK, Department for International Trade

A couple of inter-related predictions.

First, mature healthcare systems will increasingly try to support the countries in transition towards universal health care and embracing digital health. Essentially, this means facing some hard truths, e.g. that digital health cannot replace a functioning health system, states must set infrastructure and interoperability standards and that a digitally-enabled workforce is necessary.

Second, momentum around open standards will increasingly mean adaptation by the big, closed, proprietary systems.

Third, smaller, agile digital health firms will have to form partnerships with each other to succeed and to help escape any fragmentation they may unwittingly contribute to.

Eleonora Harwich, director of research and head of tech innovation, Reform

The key issue of 2020 will be establishing what fair commercial relationships look like between the private sector, the public sector and patients when data are used to create digital healthcare products or services. People are increasingly unhappy with the status quo in which they have little knowledge or agency over what is done with information about them.

In addition, the NHS [in the UK] doesn’t get a particularly good deal in these commercial partnerships.

Jörg Studzinski, director of research and advisory services, HIMSS

This decade will bring significant changes and disruptions when it comes to digitally-enabled health. Health and care delivery as well as prevention in the 2020s will become more consumer-centric, with AI-powered tools and virtual interactions between patients and care providers becoming the new normal in many situations.

The year 2020 itself will pave the way into this health decade of data-driven, personalised diagnostics, prevention and virtual health assistance by further removing barriers in interoperability, data privacy regulations and care provider fragmentation.

Watch out for more alliances between big tech companies and care delivery organisations.

Watch Jörg discuss findings from this year’s HIMSS European eHealth survey on HIMSS TV here. 

Claire Novorol, cofounder and chief medical officer, Ada Health

2020 will be a key year for regulation in health tech, and we can expect to see even more collaboration between regulators and independent companies. As digital health technologies become increasingly popular, new regulations and higher levels of scrutiny will be paramount, with projects such as the EU’s upcoming Medical Device Regulation marking a significant step for monitoring and evaluation in digital health. 

Standardisation and benchmarking on a global level will also be a big industry focus, with leading organisations such as the WHO and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) already exploring ways to establish standardised benchmarking for AI in health.

Timo Heikkilä, cofounder and chief operating officer, Popit

In 2020 we will be seeing a lot more digital therapeutics make it to the hands of patients. There are several catalysts. Apart from the drive from some governments (looking at you, Germany), a catalyst is also the increasing demand from consumer-patients.

Healthcare-related consumer behaviours are more and more in the digital domain and patients are starting to expect digital solutions to either augment or completely replace the traditional treatments. The big tech companies, especially Amazon, Apple and Google are poised to make an impact here through both software AND hardware.

Sam Shah, digital health technology advisor

Development and transformation in digital health is accelerating at pace at a global level. There are strong developments in a number of domains ranging from HIEs, citizen-facing digital services and the use of remote devices.

Emerging trends seem to be in relation to big data analytics and new ways of enabling citizen access to health data. Population health remains a strong theme for 2020, and equally a recognition in the use of software as a medical device. Undoubtedly, AI, in all its forms, will remain of significant interest, particularly in imaging and diagnostics.

Watch Sam talk about the lessons health systems can learn from each other in order to speed up digitisation here. 

Paolo Romolo Locatelli, scientific officer, Politecnico Di Milano Digital Innovation in Healthcare Observatory

In Italy, digital services for patients and doctors will be enhanced in 2020, working towards connected care systems. Apps and wearables for the ‘quantified self’ will be spread, driven by [the] private healthcare system. Online booking systems will be enhanced to reduce waiting lists, applying a national plan of the Ministry of Health.

Inside hospitals, the best cases of EMR use will be spread due to some relevant regional projects (e.g. in Lombardy and Veneto). The question mark will be mainly around telemedicine, as patients and doctors ask for these services, but we see some steps ahead only in small projects.

Petra Wilson, managing director, Health Connect Partners

I believe that in 2020 two important developments in European level policy will take us closer to routine integration of digital health tools into everyday care. The creation of the European Health Data Space will be a key tool in channeling vast flows of data into the discovery of medicines and devices and the delivery of care, while the adoption of EU-level legislation on AI will help in building much needed public trust in such uses of data.

The next year will not see the conclusion of these two important initiatives, but they will mark important steps forward. 

Theo Fotis, principal lecturer, University of Brighton School of Health Sciences

I predict that 2020 will be the year of realisation that personalised digital health solutions are the key for fast adaption. We will realise that not one solution fits all, and that will disrupt the way we ideate, develop and trial digital health solutions.

The way forward will be to either develop self-adhesive biosensor patches that are totally seamless and non-invasive in any way, with minimal to zero interaction with the user, or driven by person centred/ end user ideation, development and trialling of digital health technologies.

The model of digital health innovation will have as a start the user in the community who will guide what is needed to be developed rather than having the technology ready and trying to integrate it in someone’s life or care pathway.

Watch Theo talk about the role of nurses in driving digital innovation in healthcare here.

James Hawkins, director of strategy, NHS Digital

As we move into the next decade, the need to accelerate the data-driven transformation of health and care systems has never been greater. To be successful, we all must ensure that healthcare data is used securely, ethically, and with total transparency in the context that it is supporting improvements in health and care and patients have rights and objections to data use noted and upheld.

The relationship between health provider and patients has always been hallmarked by unbridled trust. This data-driven revolution also needs to be supported by a significant trust catalyst to ensure it is fully embraced by patients.

Watch James explain what the new NHS App is offering patients in England here. 

Anett Molnar, senior manager, public policy and engagement, HIMSS 

I believe the year ahead of us will bring exciting conversations and developments in relation to personal connected health, especially around health and wellness, mobile phone applications and remote monitoring services.

There are still a lot of challenges ahead, not just from a technical, but also from a governance and legal perspective, looking at how to combine data generated within the traditional healthcare system with information gathered by citizens themselves and by their carers.      

I am also glad to see, in addition to exchanges of health data for the benefit of patients receiving treatment, EU-level discussions addressing prevention and the secondary use of data, boosting research and innovation and ultimately giving back to the individual and to populations.

Tamara Sunbul, medical director, clinical informatics, Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare

The digital health space in 2020 will bring new technologies to the market, as well as operationalise and disseminate current ones. Disseminated technologies include smart electronic health records, closed loop medication, and lab and breast milk administration. Operationalised technologies include patient access to medical information and partnership in healthcare, registries and prevention before intervention care, telemedicine and remote visits. New technologies include advances in machine learning and diagnostic wearables. 

In addition to all of this, 2020 will bring along more advanced data analytics to set the stage for AI and predictive/ prescriptive analytics, as well as advanced cybersecurity and data confidentiality.

Jane Griffiths, associate professor and chief nursing information officer, Dubai Healthcare Corporation

2020 will be an exciting and innovative year for digital health. Our focus must remain and always be on what these digital innovations will do to improve outcomes for our community.

There are now advancements in IoT that allow patients to be monitored outside of health care facilities. Patients will have access to their medical records at home, do we need to ensure the industry standards and accuracy of these devices allow for a direct feed of this data into patient’s medical records?

Social determinants of health will also, in the future, help us identify what influences the communities’ needs, determining not only health care requirements, but also urban and health infrastructure planning.

Osama Elhassan, head of eHealth section, Dubai Health Authority

Digital healthcare technologies in 2020 should consider developing new tools that support bringing back the human element to the healthcare profession as first-class citizens. Namely, technologies that bring back clinicians to [the] bedside and increase the face-time of medical consultation sessions compared with screen-time spent on documentation or allocate relevant clinical information within complex clinical application GUIs [graphical user interface].

AI-powered voice recognition, video scribing and RTLS [real-time location system] solutions shall play a key role in the coming few years in minimising surging burnout rates among clinicians. Additionally, data interoperability, integration technologies and visualisation tools have to be improved to construct meaningful and actionable patient information, in order to allow capturing, intervening and monitoring improvements of patients’ social influences-of health. 

Nima Jokilaakso, senior advisor, Business Finland

Since the eHealth hype, the US has been the primary scene of investments and business fed by reforms. Now the initiative is in Europe, where as part of the fifth freedom of Digital Single Market member countries are moving forward with the unique cross-border healthcare for its citizens by ensuring that the relevant health data is transferred to enable the right treatment and personalised healthcare.

In 2019, Finland became the first country worldwide to exchange e-prescriptions together with Estonia, with the new cohorts joining 2020-22 Europe is taking patient-centric healthcare to a new level with electronic health records in the pipeline. Are you ready for 513 million Patient 2.0s?

The doctor’s perspective: Gabrielle Speijer, radiation oncologist, Haga Hospital

Imagine 2020 as the tipping point in healthcare’s history. You, working in the health and care landscape, will create impact by respecting the basic values of the healthcare provider, formulated as the contemporary version of our oath: “I promise to entrust our patients with health and care. That is by leveraging the technology available, making information valuable, available to the patient, while respecting confidentiality and privacy.” Building upon a sustainable health system worldwide, something we all expect and deserve.

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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