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Nine Trends That Will Define Healthcare in 2022

Rikki Jennings (BSN, RN, CPN), Chief Nursing Informatics Officer, Zebra Technologies

If you have found it difficult to plan for 2022 – or found yourself mapping out multiple contingency plans for every project – you’re not alone. How is anyone in healthcare expected to define goals for the next 12 months when so much can change in just 12 hours?

Though impossible to predict the future, we can prepare for the unknown by assessing what we do know: our current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Once we know where we’re starting, where we want to go, and what we’re up against, we can set realistic objectives and take measured action to achieve them. For example, after a collaborative analysis of healthcare in recent weeks, there are nine trends that we expect to define healthcare IT priorities and spend in 2022:

  1. Extensive IT infrastructure implementations. Many hospitals were in the early stages of technology deployments when the pandemic started. Some were still relying on manual processes for patient charting and reporting. Healthcare systems that had digitalized some systems found them to be fragmented across functions – and not conducive to coordination and unified communication. So, many IT teams will continue to spend 2022 focused on technology modernization, but with an emphasis on laying a solid, long-term framework that can support rapid solution scaling in the years to come. In fact, 94% of hospital decision-makers say they’ll increase IT spend in 2022. 
  2. A move to mobility solutions built specifically for healthcare use. In Zebra’s latest Hospital Vision Study, nine-in-10 decision-makers said they will increase spend on clinical mobility in 2022, with the push for clearer communications and greater workforce productivity core to this strategy change. They will be investing more heavily in care team communication and patient engagement tools, as well as mobile alerting systems – all of which will be easier to deploy, manage and use with enterprise-grade clinical smartphones that have security and privacy-centric feature sets along with remote management capabilities. 
  3. A rise in real-time location system use. Healthcare workers need to be able to keep tabs on staff, patients, equipment, supplies, specimens, drugs and more. That’s proven difficult in the recent past and, for many, remains a challenge in the present. Sonine-in-10 hospital decision-makers say they’re going to accelerate spending in this area in 2022. They can’t afford to lose sight of people or the few assets they have as supply and equipment shortages linger. Near-term deployments will include both radio frequency identification (RFID) and Bluetooth® Low Energy solutions that can provide pinpoint location accuracy and expedite asset retrieval. These same solutions will also help healthcare providers improve asset utilization and improve contact tracing and infection control. 
  4. The retail-ization of healthcare. We’ll see more consumers use retail store clinics and rely on retail and mail-order pharmacies as well as care “subscription” models that circumvent traditional insurance and provide more direct access to telehealth or clinic-based providers. Even remote patient monitoring, though driven primarily by traditional healthcare systems, will be reliant on monitoring devices that can hypothetically be acquired via retail channels. A do-it-yourself or self-care mindset may drive many consumers to take control of their health in non-traditional ways, and healthcare systems will need to adapt to maintain continuity in patient care. Consequently, we are finding healthcare delivery organization (HDO) business models under pressure to deliver highly reliable care at a lower cost at a place and time that is convenient for the consumer. This might surface as “clinic-in-a-box” facilities, community health “step downs” and proactive home health services – especially as capital budget challenges and delayed slow down campus expansions. 
  5. Hospital leaders will automate as many workflows and processes as possible to better manage the supply chain, patient demand and turnover, and the workforce. They know they must improve resource utilization and service quality. Automating the right processes will allow for more efficient throughput management, as well as scheduling optimization. Along these same lines, we expect there will be more interest in business model transformation, which includes dual systems of care, site of care shifts, and virtual care product lines.
  6. Telehealth will remain popular with patients. This is especially true as the pandemic continues to force facility shutdowns or capacity limitations. The rise of telehealth during the pandemic has proven that virtual care can still be quality care. Of course, more must be done to ensure accessibility is maintained from a financial perspective. Policies need to be in place to ensure providers are fairly compensated and patients are fully covered. However, we now have our “proof of concept” and can begin to build a sustainable model that will be universally beneficial. Technology applications are now critically considered in terms of efficiency, security, privacy and ease of use from both a provider and patient perspective. And processes can be clearly defined to ensure information is flowing smoothly to and from patients, all providers, and others involved in care actions, such as pharmacists, lab techs, radiologists, and even medical supplies providers. 
  7. Increased interest in virtual care inside hospitals and clinics. Heightened visibility into the potential of telehealth, chatbots, and remote patient monitoring have healthcare providers trying to determine the right care model and service delivery balance moving forward. Though most people think of telehealth as a provider consulting with an at-home patient, expect to see more inpatient oversight via telehealth and other virtual care tools in 2022. In both scenarios, high volume technology utilization will drive greater use case sophistication, combining communications asynchronous video and artificial intelligence (AI) applications. 
  8. Non-acute care providers will become fast technology adopters. Once it becomes safe to do so, and resources become available, the non-acute sector will need to make up months of paused procedures. The faster they can turn patients and procedure rooms, the more patients they can serve and the more revenue they can generate. However, such turns require precision and extensive coordination between clinical and non-clinical staff. Expect to see increased digitalization of information systems and widespread deployments of clinical smartphones and healthcare-grade tablets that can expedite positive patient identification (PPID), check-ins, reporting, charge capture and more. The entire patient journey will be digitalized, to the benefit of physicians, nurses, support staff and patients alike.  
  9. The nursing shortage will grow and, in turn, increasingly influence technology investments and operational overhauls. Without decisive action, nurses will practice under increased stress. Healthcare administrators will need to work fast to augment the workforce with technology tools that facilitate widespread collaboration, improve planning and execution, and balance schedules according to actual versus assumed bandwidth. They will also spend much of 2022 examining ways to automate workflows, information transfers, and physical handoffs of patients, equipment, rooms, supplies, medicines and more. Expect to see RFID increasingly integrated into hospital technology architecture to expedite patient, staff and equipment locationing as well as the overall patient journey. Clinical mobility solutions will also start to scale beyond the bedside to urgent/emergency departments where there is a desperate need for instant information.

Though acute and non-acute care providers are equally challenged by the pandemic and current supply chain shortages, there is not a single right way forward for all. Each hospital, clinic and ambulatory surgical center must assess the feasibility of their business objectives in the context of current resources, especially as these trends begin to scale to a level of normalization. Though some may say trends are fads – apt to become less relevant with time – I believe these trends are foundational to the future of healthcare. We have no choice but to move forward, so let’s learn from the past, and drive progress in the present so each tomorrow delivers a better experience for patients, clinicians and all healthcare community members.

To learn more about the simple healthcare-ready technologies that can be used to unburden the delivery of patient care, click here.