Healthcare technology predictions for 2019

Noel Sheppard, general manager of Distec, looks at how technology will impact on the healthcare sector in the next 12 months

The widespread adoption of healthcare technology, and in particular the ongoing switch to digital health records, will have a major impact on the delivery of NHS services over the coming year

The beginning of the year is generally a sensible time to take stock of the industry in which we operate, the major trends that look set to shape it in the months ahead, and how our marketplace, customers, and competitors might shift and evolve.

Healthcare will always be one of the fastest-moving and most-exciting segments of the technology industry, so taking a moment to appraise it more holistically is often helpful.

So, what look set to be the key healthcare technology trends for 2019, and how will these affect the marketplace?

All roads lead to integration

Integration is the healthcare technology buzzword of the moment.

All roads, it can seem, ultimately are driving towards a consolidated, digitised approach to healthcare, which removes the need for healthcare practitioners to handle cumbersome, and sometimes inaccurate, paperwork, and allows different groups of stakeholders to share, and contribute to, patient information seamlessly.

Healthcare will always be one of the fastest-moving and most-exciting segments of the technology industry, so taking a moment to appraise it more holistically is often helpful

This, in turn, supports the NHS’s Paperless 2020 initiative, which we are of course moving within touching distance of in 2019.

Readiness for this, then, has to be the core healthcare technology prediction for the year ahead.

Electronic health record (EHR) systems are the core of the Paperless 2020 trategy, since they are the software that enables patient medical information to be generated, stored, shared, and collaborated on centrally and digitally by multiple different healthcare organisations.

EHR systems are well established, with a small number of core players dominating the market and gradually expanding their reach across different NHS trusts, departments, and healthcare organisations.

It seems unlikely that 2019 will present any major changes to this landscape, though clearly behind the scenes healthcare organisations will be working hard to migrate large volumes of data to said systems securely and comprehensively.

The ability of the healthcare technology sector to capture and analyse a vast array of rich data will accelerate massively in 2019

Interfaces underpin integration

However, as EHR systems gain yet more traction within the NHS, one of the more-visible impacts of this for patients and practitioners will be an increase in the number of responsive digital interfaces.

Through 2019, we will see these become an increasingly-common sight in NHS settings.

Manufacturers and suppliers of next-generation digital screens and tablets ruggedised for healthcare use could be among the most-influential healthcare technology organisations in the year ahead.

Likewise, 2019 could be the year where engagement with such interfaces becomes the patient norm.

Many patients are already familiar with electronic check-in and information screens when they visit the doctor, and 2018 saw a range of telemedicine applications offering smartphone-based GP appointments hit the headlines. These will become more commonplace, and even routine, in 2019, as patients seek to maximise convenience and choice.

Patient as consumer

Indeed, the patient-facing end of healthcare technology is where some of the most-dramatic innovations in the sector are taking place.

All roads, it can seem, ultimately are driving towards a consolidated, digitised approach to healthcare, which removes the need for healthcare practitioners to handle cumbersome, and sometimes inaccurate, paperwork, and allows different groups of stakeholders to share, and contribute to, patient information seamlessly

Last year, it was revealed that Apple had hired dozens of doctors, suggesting a serious move to stake a claim on healthcare technology ground.

Also last year, the Apple Watch launched an electrocardiogram which can monitor the wearer’s heart rhythm and identify abnormalities.

2019, then, could see the likes of Google and Amazon scrambling to catch up, and something of an ‘arms race’ for the manufacturers of healthcare wearables more generally.

As consumers get more familiar with the idea of a wearable device – or even an implanted device – being able to accurately gather key medical information and ultimately better monitor or even actively intervene in their health, we may see such devices becoming the latest ‘must-haves’ as part of the broader trend for ‘wellness’.

Manufacturers and suppliers of next-generation digital screens and tablets ruggedised for healthcare use could be among the most-influential healthcare technology organisations in the year ahead

Of course, the hardware is just one half of the picture when it comes to wearable and implantable healthcare devices. The other half is the data these devices collect and how it can be analysed and harnessed – the mechanism enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT).

Indeed, the ability of the healthcare technology sector to capture and analyse a vast array of rich data pertaining to individuals’ health, will accelerate massively in 2019.

Once again, this opens up a huge wealth of opportunities, not just for the manufacturers of health devices, but also for software providers who can deliver the analytics platforms needed to make sense of this rich data.

There is a much-greater role for artificial intelligence and machine learning to play here, too.

As consumers get more familiar with the idea of a wearable device – or even an implanted device –we may see such devices becoming the latest must-haves as part of the broader trend for wellness

Ultimately, the notion of consumer familiarity at the heart of shifting all healthcare technology innovations, from the niche to the headline-grabbing.

One of the most-significant healthcare technology changes we may notice in 2019 will simply be a substantial increase in the number of news stories and high-profile discussions of how the latest hardware, software and data analytics can generate life-changing improvements in patient diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care.

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