Virtual nurses, bots, AI: Digital health predictions for '23

A "headline-grabbing" health system/digital health company merger? Less digital health investment from hospitals? More virtual healthcare workers to meet staffing shortages?

These are some of the predictions health system chief digital officers made for the industry in 2023. Here are those digital health forecasts for the new year, as told to Becker's by nine executives:

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President, Chief Digital Officer and CIO of Seattle Children's: Moving into 2023, I anticipate expanded usage of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation; a move from predictive to prescriptive analytics; use of tools to drive better patient outcomes to include a rise in remote patient monitoring and wearables with a more personalized focus; and further growth in 3D printing technology.

I suspect we will continue to see a paradigm shift in the retail delivery of healthcare in primary services. Virtual health services will continue. New tools to help retain and attract top digital and technology talent will emerge.

Brian Dobosh. Vice President of Digital Health for RWJBarnabas Health (West Orange, N.J.): For '23, I think we're going to see some health systems put the brakes on digital spending. This is due to the big losses that many are seeing throughout over the past year. However, this is the opposite of what should be happening. Digital health spending will actually help in the short and long term because it will enable the health systems to realize a greater potential in connecting with their patients and providing better customer service.

Health systems are often competing for the same patients. How easily a patient can connect to the digital front doors (scheduling appointments online for example), and how well they remain connected throughout their entire journey from pre-service to follow-up, will determine whether they'll return.

The digital tools that are invested in by the health system will allow the staff to provide top-tier service to these patients throughout the care journey and give them the ability to do more in less time, which ultimately leads to a more productive day and happier patients.

Amber Fencl. Senior Vice President of Digital Health and Engagement at Novant Health (Winston-Salem, N.C.): We will see an expansion of virtualization in response to staffing constraints across healthcare systems.

In order to seamlessly support a patient's in-person and virtual care journey, healthcare systems must embrace hybrid care models that utilize advanced technology. We will see higher patient satisfaction in systems that offer a blended model where the brick-and-mortar clinic works in concert with a virtual care team, providing greater flexibility and continuity without compromising quality, safety and treatment. These systems will also optimize care-team capacity with the virtual team acting as a physician extender.

We have seen remote patient monitoring provide valuable personalization, improved outcomes and better patient experience. Because of this, digital health will continue to expand through incorporation of advanced devices (and deviceless technology). However, it is important that these companies avoid inundating providers with mounds of data rather than actionable information. Continued advancement in digital health technology will allow us to leverage both novel concepts and cornerstone capabilities, all while building meaningful, composite offerings that are truly differentiating for patients and providers.

Peter Fleischut, MD. Chief Information and Transformation Officer of NewYork-Presbyterian (New York City): My feeling is the biggest trends will be technologies focused on decreasing friction to consumers and providers as well as reducing the overall burden of disease.

Randy Gaboriault. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer of ChristianaCare (Newark, Del.): As an industry, we have spent the last several years deploying numerous venture-birthed digital-health point solutions. Providers sought to create new capabilities faster than the EHR suite vendors could respond to emerging needs. COVID-19 accelerated this digital sprawl. Now we must rationalize our portfolios. The rationalization work will result in the next generation of digital-health tech stacks from point solutions to platforms, intentionally integrated workflows and data flows that drive strategically differentiated outcomes that are difficult to mimic.

Value creation separates digital toys from digital tools. Solutions must demonstrate verifiable evidence of a clear return on investment. Those who cannot deliver the required [internal rate of return] will not receive resources, no matter how novel.

Aaron Miri. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer of Baptist Health (Jacksonville, Fla.): The biggest trends in 2023 will be on the themes of patient engagement, financial diligence/stewardship and robotic process automation. All three dimensions fold into the cold winter reality of a healthcare environment without CARES dollars smoothing over inefficient workflows. Those health systems that focus on consumer delight, business back-office agility, and working smarter will be the ones in pole position going into 2024 and beyond.

Mohamed Salem. Executive Director of Digital IT Innovation at University of Miami Health System: In my opinion, I predict the biggest digital health trends of 2023 will be:

— Virtual home-health programs with central command centers shared between organizations.

— Digital front doors with AI chatbots for symptom triage and self-scheduling.

— Patient engagement platforms integrated with virtual nursing and virtual patient-sitting for fall risks.

Jeffrey Sturman. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.): There have been so many areas where we have seen digital health move quickly to improve our health delivery processes over the last three to four years — from virtual, telehealth and remote patient monitoring to robotic process automation.

I think in 2023 we will see this be the year for significant growth in AI. This can very fairly vague in definition but what we are seeing is advancement in three primary areas of patient outcomes by using AI:

— Diagnosis and predictive clinical models, both in the inpatient and outpatient care settings.

Imaging/radiology studies.

— Virtual health/directing patients to the right care setting.

Furthermore, AI will play a tremendous role in helping to manage and continue to deal with the ongoing staffing challenges facing our industry.

Patrick Woodard, MD. Chief Digital Officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (Memphis, Tenn.): Consumerism, consolidation and integration.

Consumerism will continue to play a big role in the way patients access care, and health systems should take notice. When a patient no longer needs to find a local obstetrician for fertility treatments, that is a sea change in the way people enter the health system. We have talked for years about the digital front door, but this move towards consumer-facing digital health companies will force health systems into good but difficult conversations about how to respond.

Part of the response will be continued consolidation. Health systems and digital health companies alike will continue the recent trend of mergers and megamergers. What will be especially interesting to see will be to what extent this might include traditional players (health systems, pharmacies) merging with new entrants. We have seen a bit of this with Amazon/One Medical, Walgreens/VillageMD, and CVS/Signify Health, but I wouldn't rule out a headline-grabbing health system/digital health merger in 2023.

Lastly, whether through a merger or not, health systems will need to double down on integrating existing systems. Patients and clinicians alike demand and deserve a holistic experience through their healthcare journey, and this can only be achieved with deep integration of tools throughout the patient lifecycle. Combine that with staffing challenges that will likely continue for the foreseeable future — and the clinician and patient experience will need to be defragged.

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