5 healthcare innovation trends to keep a close eye on

As healthcare's digital transformation continues, new trends arise each year. Below are five innovation trends to which health systems' innovation leaders have been paying especially close attention in 2021:

Investments in digital health startups

Digital health startups raised $14.7 billion in the first six months of 2021, which means the sector has already surpassed the $14.6 billion it raised in all of 2020. The five categories that received the most funding during this period were telemedicine, wellness, mHealth apps, analytics and clinical decision support.

Cleveland Clinic, Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, St. Louis-based Ascension, and Renton, Wash.-based Providence are among the largest health systems that have invested in digital health startups in 2021. One particularly noteworthy example of digital health investment came in May, when Kaiser Permanente and Mayo Clinic struck a joint strategic investment in Medically Home Group, a Boston-based tech services company that powers hospital-at-home programs.

AI for clinical decision support

Hospitals are increasingly adopting artificial intelligence-powered tools to support clinical decision making. Digital health startups focusing on clinical decision support raised $1.1 billion in the first half of 2021.

Still, not all patients are sold on the technology. Some hospital CIOs think patients could warm up to it, though. 

Zafar Chaudry, MD, senior vice president and CIO at Seattle Children's said many AI-powered clinical decision support tools "have been shown to perform with expert-level accuracy." Myra Davis, chief information innovation officer at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston said AI "will result in better informed decisions that will, if applied properly, improve population health."

Health data-sharing

Health data-sharing has gained prominence as an innovation trend because of its potential to support healthcare workflows, data acquisition, patient records interoperability and patient identity and control over data. 

One example of a health data-sharing advancement came in June, when former Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush created Zus Health, a digital health platform that lets developers create tools and applications using a shared data record.

Another example came in July, when Amazon made its healthcare data lake available to providers. The HIPAA-eligible service is designed to identify critical information and data and structure it into the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources standard format to support health information sharing between providers. 

Hospital at home

The pandemic accelerated "hospital at home" programs, which use remote monitoring and telehealth technologies to provide patients with hospital-level care without the risks and costs associated with hospital stays. 

"What excites me the most about hospital at home is, in a word, innovation. Our teams are continually looking for ways to transform and improve access to and delivery of healthcare services across our communities, including home-based care. By applying a personalized and compassionate strategy to emerging technology, we're enabling seamless, easy access to care when and where it’s needed," said Eduardo Conrado, Ascension's executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer.

Wearable monitoring devices

Hospitals have been paying more attention to wearable health devices, as they can collect real-time patient data. Such devices' remote monitoring capabilities can help track patients' recovery, keep symptoms in check and/or point toward a diagnosis. 

A key example of health wearables' advancement came in December when Amazon made its Halo device available to the general public. Halo uses sensors to collect health data including temperature, heart rate, sleep and fitness activity. It is integrated with Cerner's EHR solutions, which allows device users to opt in to share their health data directly into their EHR and with care teams that use Cerner. San Diego-based Sharp Healthcare is the first Cerner client to participate in the collaboration.

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