2021's brightest health tech innovations, per 5 hospital execs

Here, five executives from health systems across the country answer the question, "What was the most impactful health tech innovation in 2021?"

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Aaron Martin. Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): Access optimization in healthcare. Aggregating patient demand, navigating patients to the right care venue (physician, retail, urgent care, telehealth, emergency department, etc.) and then load balancing the supply of clinician time to increase patient access and satisfaction while lowering clinician burnout. In 2022, it will be patient engagement — creating opportunities for delivering health services, education and products to patients between episodes of clinical care to truly build a long-term relationship with the patient.

Karen Murphy, PhD, RN. Chief Innovation Officer at Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): The most impactful health tech innovation in 2021 was the evolving use of remote patient monitoring. We saw an increase in 2020 due to COVID, but in the last year the industry began to understand the potential of connecting with patients digitally to monitor their health. Remote patient monitoring carries a tremendous value proposition. Monitoring patients in their home provides critical information to providers. Early warning signs can alert providers to intervene to prevent disease progression. Interventions such as medication adjustments can be made to prevent further exacerbation. Remote patient monitoring, when used correctly, will lower total cost of care by avoiding emergency department visits and potentially, readmissions to the hospital.

As the use of remote patient monitoring increases, it will be important for tech companies to integrate with additional systems such as the EHR. This will enhance the ease of use for providers. As the technology advances, patients will be more empowered to engage in self-management in a manner that will improve clinical outcomes. The use of this technology will most definitely become mainstream moving forward.

Thomas Graham, MD. Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at Kettering Health (Dayton, Ohio): I believe that the biggest needle-mover of 2021 was the transition of virtual care from a peripheral technology to an essential tool. Sure, advances in precision medicine, diagnostics and therapeutics, medical devices and data analytics are impressive; however, the most impact was seen when we were finally forced to flip the switch and adopt what was a novelty as a vital instrument in our day-to-day care.

The familiarity (both physician and patient) that grew from our pandemic experience will change the paradigm of healing, give rise to myriad derivative technologies and even change the regulatory/legislative landscape. I am just as prone to chase the next "shiny metal object" as the next innovation thought leader, but once in a while we need to recognize an elegant recalibration of a technology that was repurposed at the time we needed it most. I believe "Telemedicine 2.0" is here to stay and will provide a strong foundation on which to build tomorrow's advancements.

Jeffrey Sturman. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Memorial Healthcare System (Hollywood, Fla.): In the face of COVID, I think you would have to say that all virtual health capabilities have expanded greatly and evolved further in 2021, thus being the most impactful to what we do. Through virtual health, we have continued to care for patients, advanced our ability to engage consumers in new ways, created more points of access and matured a focus on value-based care. Virtual health broadly includes telehealth, e-consults, e-visits, e-ICU, remote patient monitoring in inpatient and outpatient settings, and many other areas where we have helped our providers engage consumers effectively.

There are many other innovations that we have initiated that will rise to creating a tremendous ongoing impact. Namely, a focus on artificial intelligence and robotic process automation are helping with staffing shortages, creating consistent delivery of care, and automating much of the revenue cycle. Our introduction of creating an omni-channel experience for our consumers, putting much more decision-making and capability into the hands of consumers via voice, chat, text, email and self-service is a game changer for the healthcare industry. Finally, a focus on intelligent voice assistance to increase satisfaction for providers and patients alike.

Mark Kandrysawtz. Chief Innovation Officer at WellSpan Health (York, Pa.): The most impactful tech innovation of the year was the rapidly increasing focus on application of AI in healthcare — both for enterprise business functions and care delivery. We see rapidly growing focus across the landscape: from innovators in Silicon Valley to research occurring in universities and medical schools and experimentation happening at the community health level. At WellSpan Health, we've made investments in clinical and consumer AI and are experimenting with using AI to transform our enterprise to make care more affordable, more effective and easier to use.


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