From consumerism to the cloud: 5 key predictions for healthcare in 2019

January 15, 2019

The healthcare industry doesn’t stay still and neither do the health systems within it as they strive to make meaningful progress for their patients and providers. With that, we see several key interconnected trends making an impact in 2019.

As we start 2019, it’s the natural time for us look at what the healthcare industry experienced and learned in 2018, as well as what corners we can see around for the coming year. The healthcare industry doesn’t stay still and neither do the health systems within it as they strive to make meaningful progress for their patients and providers. With that, we see several key interconnected trends making an impact in 2019:

Systemness becomes a stated imperative for health systems

Systemness, or operating in a way that enables a system to create more value than the sum of its parts, can apply to many different areas of a health system’s performance. As patients increasingly act more like consumers, health systems must meet their demand for convenient and timely care, while providing a consistent experience across access points and care settings to build loyalty to differentiate themselves from competitors. Health systems have spent years integrating tools and care processes oriented around clinical data, and this approach will expand to more areas of healthcare operations. The modularization of healthcare will continue to grow as health systems answer consumer demand for access; provide a broader array of integrated, but uniquely tailored services; and leverage new partners to deliver innovative solutions. The need to have a deliberate strategy for driving systemness will only grow alongside these trends.

Consumers will have more choice than ever around where and when they access care

Consumer-driven healthcare has been around as a concept for quite a while, but its manifestation hasn’t been a singular event. Instead, we’re seeing the culmination of service offerings, payment models, and technologies weave together to broaden the spectrum of choice for consumers-but simultaneously make it more challenging to navigate to the right care, at the right time, in the right location. Consumer expectations around engagement and self-service have spilled over from other industries into healthcare and will continue to accelerate in 2019 as health systems compete by modularizing more of their offerings and leveraging new channels to bring new care choices and flexibility to consumers. In addition to the ongoing growth of convenient, low-acuity sites of care (e.g., retail clinics), we’ve seen telemedicine start to become a considerable force, particularly for certain types of primary care triage. We’ve passed the tipping point where more consumers have smartphones than computers and are doing more to organize their lives through those devices. Healthcare options will continue to follow and evolve on the consumer’s terms.

Large Global 1,000 companies will revamp how their employees connect with care, bringing about broader industry change

Connected to consumer choice, we’ll continue to see large employers invest in more options for their employees to connect with care as a significant value-added benefit, producing win-wins for the companies and their employees. We see top-tier examples of in-house clinics and more onsite care options in the news, but they represent only part of the story. Connecting with and coordinating care can be time-consuming and stressful, so leading employers will continue to invest in programs and services to reduce this burden and capitalize on the growing diversification of care options. Beyond just running white-labeled health plans or having periodic benefits seminars, forward-thinking employers will take an active role in managing their employees as existing or potential patients and offer services and products to make their engagement with care more efficient and cost-effective-proving out new models that the broader industry is likely to leverage as time goes on.

Healthcare will reap the benefits of intelligent automation, but not by replacing humans with artificial intelligence (AI)

As the hyperbole of AI dies down, actual value will be delivered in healthcare by improving intelligent automation and augmenting processes to improve quality, speed, and efficiency in patient engagement scenarios. The ability to engage patients on their terms with more natural language processing will grow in prevalence as the rapid adoption of chatbots and other virtual assistance technologies for patient access purposes continues. Additionally, the ability to assist those helping patients navigate their care options-patient access agents, discharge coordinators, and various other care navigators-with more intelligent platforms to navigate increasingly complex healthcare protocols will be a key source of value from AI. In addition, by using hybrid cloud solutions and existing technologies, health systems will continue to make investments that responsibly leverage the data they have to ensure patient-provider interactions are made easier across different engagement channels.

The cloud will become normalized for healthcare, but cloud/on-premise hybrids will be the dominant model

A lift-and-shift to a full cloud model isn’t a reality for a majority of health systems, but the adoption of the cloud beyond apps will expand dramatically in 2019, driven by a few key factors: continued expansion of HIPAA-compliant application programming interface (API) offerings for more value-added healthcare operations (think Amazon's recent Comprehend Medical analysis service); continued expansion of key standards, such as FHIR; easier integration of on-premise and cloud applications; and continued adoption of cloud-native healthcare platforms across the spectrum of clinical and operation workflows. Hybrid cloud adoption can allow organizations to increase their solutions development velocity, while protecting existing investments, and allow systemness initiatives to expand value delivered to provider organizations and patients.

While these predictions don’t necessarily represent net-new actions for health systems-many forward-looking organizations are already making progress in these areas, experimenting and taking advantage of new opportunities-2019 will likely bring significant momentum across these five key areas. As we keep an eye out for other major developments in the healthcare industry that will surely occur in the year ahead, we’ll be tracking these key predictions and watching as they take hold and shape the market as it continues to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace.

Chris Gervais is senior vice president of product development at Kyruus.