The Philips Future Health Index 2021 report found that nearly two in three healthcare leaders are prioritizing investments in telehealth – but that priorities will shift to artificial intelligence in three years.
The report surveyed nearly 3,000 executive officers, financial officers, technology and information officers, operations officers, and other C-suite or senior executive healthcare leaders from 14 countries about current and future priorities, particularly amid the enduring COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the industry’s recent surge in adoption of innovation like virtual care is promising, healthcare leaders are now keenly focused on cementing these solutions into care delivery models long-term,” said Dr. Joe Frassica, head of Philips Research and chief medical officer for North America, in an email to Healthcare IT News.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Future Health Index report found that healthcare leaders appear to be taking a three-step approach to digital transformation:
- by investing in telehealth in the shorter term.
- by investing in AI in the longer term.
- by collaborating with other private hospitals and health technology companies.
“Our FHI report found that half of U.S. healthcare leaders are prioritizing strategic partnerships to successfully implement digital health technologies, both with other hospitals and healthcare facilities, as well as with health technology companies,” said Frassica.
“It is this reinvigorated spirit of collaboration that will truly advance the industry, helping to establish a much-needed foundational technology infrastructure that future innovation relies on,” he added.
A whopping 89% of U.S. healthcare leaders said they are currently heavily investing in telehealth.
At the same time, the Future Health Index shows that leaders expect their investment in telehealth to drop significantly three years from now.
“One potential reason could be that leaders will have already built a lasting foundation upon which further digital transformation and future healthcare delivery models can be built,” read the report.
In the longer term, leaders see AI emerging as a key investment priority for the future of care.
About 57% of U.S. leaders say that in three years, their healthcare facility will most need to invest in implementing predictive healthcare technologies, compared with 7% currently.
They are most interested in AI for optimizing operational efficiency, followed by diagnostic integration, outcome prediction and clinical decision support.
The third digital transformation step, execs said, will be to drive change with strategic partners. About one-third of U.S. healthcare leaders say collaboration is necessary to implement digital health technologies.
The Future Health Index report also noted a focus on environmentally sustainable systems – while noting that the United States lags behind in improving care for the most vulnerable populations.
Only 6% of U.S. healthcare leaders say they have initiatives in place aimed at addressing inequities, although 68% say they’re currently developing initiatives.
“The most important starting point with relation to health equity is the intention to measure,” said Dr. Aaron Neinstein, associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, during a press call about the findings.
That measurement, he said, means “understanding who’s receiving telehealth-delivered care, understanding what types of populations receive care and making sure everyone has the opportunities to receive the same level of care.”
THE LARGER TREND
As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues around the world, a number of reports have signaled enduring interest in virtual care – while suggesting the boom in virtual care is likely to level off.
Earlier this week a survey of U.S. patients found that while a large percentage were open to telehealth after the pandemic, the majority preferred a return to in-person services.
Looking ahead, striking the right balance between in-person and virtual care will be key.
“We need to help providers identify situations in which telehealth can actually fill a particular care gap, or in which a virtual visit can help improve outcomes,” said Sean Cavanaugh, the former deputy administrator and director of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in an interview with Healthcare IT News this past month.
ON THE RECORD
“The future of our digital transformation in healthcare is bright,” said Frassica to Healthcare IT News.
“While AI has been an enabling technology in healthcare for a while, this shift in investment will help us achieve its long-awaited promise to truly transform not only patient care, but also the working experience of our healthcare professionals,” he continued.