I’ve seen it said before that year-ahead predictions are like weather reports: Everyone reads them, but almost no one looks back later to see whether they were accurate. Still, since when has that stopped anyone from indulging in this pastime as the calendar turns from December to January?
Certainly, few could have guessed, as we rang out 2019, just what 2020 would have in store for the U.S. healthcare system. But having learned some difficult lessons this pandemic year, it’s worth taking stock of that hard-won wisdom – and forecasting how it might be put to work in the next 12 months as healthcare organizations chart a path forward to help a “shocked system emerge stronger” (as PwC puts it).
Here’s what execs from some leading health IT vendors think about the most pressing challenges – and big opportunities – of the year ahead.
Supply chain: Machine learning insights
“One of the lessons of COVID-19 – meaningful data sharing – will continue unabated, made even more valuable as data becomes more accessible and machine learning provides deeper insights,” said Michael Byczkowski, global VP and head of healthcare industry at SAP, the developer of enterprise application software.
As vaccines continue to roll out, requiring meticulous record-keeping and specialized shipping and storage conditions (and that’s to say nothing of the ongoing critical need for PPE and other lifesaving equipment) nowhere are interoperability and data visibility more important than with healthcare supply chains.
Despite the challenges, machine learning is helping health systems and their suppliers to put pattern recognition to work improving supply chain management, he said, such as “tracking inventories of personal protection equipment to ensure adequate coverage and enable just-in-time provisioning of supplies.”
Going forward, using AI-powered big data analytics to optimize the supply chain is going to be essential, said Byczkowski. Health systems will need to “pre-select and process data in a manner that meshes with its intended purpose and the underlying requirements for data privacy, when and where applicable.”
Beyond mere supply chains, that can help optimize care in other ways: “Once a dataset has the right ‘fit’ and is uploaded to the cloud,” he said, “AI and analytics can be applied to deliver better patient care – for example, to be used to gain visibility of total patient volumes, bed utilization, as well as workforce team assignments and workflows.”
The COVID-19 crisis has been an immense challenge. But one potential bright spot is that it has “further demonstrated the predictive power of AI,” said Byczkowski. And that could help position healthcare organizations to better weather similar challenges.
“By giving us the ability to see infection patterns emerge in societies in near real-time and isolate hotspots before they can spread out, AI may hold one of the keys to preventing future pandemics,” he said.
“AI can also significantly help fast-track vaccine development, and with broad research and the clinical trials of mRNA-based vaccine technologies, there is a tremendous opportunity not only with regards to pandemics – but also to tackle many types of cancer.”
EHRs: Automation can help
Burnout has been an ongoing scourge at hospitals for years now, and the crushing demands of the pandemic have only made it worse for physicians, nurses, telehealth managers and others. Electronic health records don’t usually help, even if their impact on burnout is more complex than many realize. But there’s no question that technology could do better helping solve the problem.
“Amidst the ongoing health crisis, clinicians need relief,” said David Lareau, CEO of Medicomp Systems, which develops EHR optimization tools.
“Doctors and nurses are overwhelmed with surging patient loads, yet we continue to add fuel to their…