Moving forward: how healthcare will evolve in 2021

Industry
December 23, 2020
Needless to say, 2020 was a challenging year for healthcare leaders. But out of crisis often comes growth and the sector certainly rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as we look towards the future, we can take some clear lessons from recent events and predict some of what healthcare will look like in 2021.
Moving forward: how healthcare will evolve in 2021

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The rise of agile workforces

 

The pandemic caused many healthcare organizations to change their approach to healthcare staffing. Many looked at new ways of getting in the people and skills needed to deal with a sudden upsurge in demand. In New York, for example, organizations tapped into alternative talent pools such as alumni (retirees) and military health professionals. Other sectors also proved a valuable source of in-demand talent - cabin crew in the UK and Sweden, for instance, had transferable skills that helped them work in pressurized, fast-paced hospital environments.

 

This trend will continue in 2021. Healthcare staffing leaders have realized the benefits of having an on-demand workforce that can respond quickly to surges in demand. When needs arise, having a mix of permanent and contingent talent can help to plug sudden skill gaps and then downscale when demand falls again. Culturally, this is a huge shift and without an immediate crisis like COVID-19, would have taken years to achieve. But hiring managers had to adapt quickly and now, based on their experiences during the pandemic, will be more likely to turn to alternative staffing options. They now understand that there’s more than one way to get work done - through permanent employees, contractors, alumni, medical students, and more.

 

Greater efficiency

 

Taking such a staffing approach will also prove cost-effective in the long-term as every worker is placed in a role that uses all of their skills and potential. Plus, when demand falls, there isn’t a fixed spend on talent. Making better use of the workforce is something all healthcare organizations will have to achieve over the coming years as they grapple with the global recession and ongoing economic uncertainty. Furthermore, pre-pandemic, many healthcare organizations globally were increasingly challenged to deliver more advanced patient care on tighter and tighter budgets. This pressure will only continue and, again, drive healthcare leaders to look for more efficient uses of resources including their people.

 

Going virtual

 

To combat fears about attending healthcare settings in-person many organizations shifted routine and non-emergency appointments to remote, virtual formats. In Norway, for example, the Epic electronic health record (EHR) platform enables patients to confidentially email doctors, book consultations, and access telehealth visits. Although experiments with telehealth services had occurred prior to COVID-19, it was slow and hindered by a lack of funding. COVID-19 changed this, making the business case for virtual healthcare services more urgent.

 

Moving forward, some telehealth services will likely continue as they make appointments more accessible to those who cannot leave their homes. It can also improve the care and experiences of patients with chronic conditions. In Denmark, there are plans to launch a remote health platform to improve the care of COPD and heart patients.

 

Automation and robotics

 

Another efficiency can be made through investing in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) - which many healthcare organizations looked at in 2020. AI played a key role in COVID-19 vaccine development, helping researchers sift through thousands of research papers (a feat humanly impossible in the urgent timeframe). AI staffing assistants (such as the one developed by Globus AI) helped healthcare staffing teams quickly place professionals into urgent roles based on their skills, experience, and availability.

 

Another facet of this will involve the ongoing development of autonomous (robotic) healthcare assistants that can move around hospitals, clinics, and care homes. This will reduce the likelihood of infection, the risk to healthcare professionals, and can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. In Japan, this is already a reality with several companion robots on the market and in use in care homes to provide company and mental health support.

 

Ongoing digital transformation

 

Long-term, this digital transformation will only continue as healthcare organizations are challenged to do more with less, to find more advanced drug and vaccine discoveries, and to address increasingly complex conditions presented by an aging population. Advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities will also begin to filter into healthcare operations.

 

Digitizing and streamlining highly computable processes (like sifting through research data or candidate profiles) will free up human teams to focus on more value-added tasks. Activities that utilize their human skills, like relationship building, will help to improve patient outcomes and make staffing more cost-effective. Work, as a whole, should become more satisfying and challenging as workers have time to build bonds with patients and their families and consider their holistic care.

 

Increased data

 

The acceleration of digital transformation will produce more data for healthcare leaders to analyze. Everything from sensors inside a building, to anonymous patient data, and staffing process data can be pored over to better understand healthcare operations, staff performance, and patient outcomes.

 

Healthcare will also extend beyond traditional settings like clinics and hospitals. In the wake of the pandemic, every company now takes an interest in their people’s physical health. Public health awareness is high and there have been shifts in health-related behavior that will endure for generations. Healthcare has become a consideration in every aspect of life. Therefore, healthcare organizations have a unique opportunity in 2021 to capitalize on this momentum and make sweeping changes in overall public health, preventative medicine, and laypeople’s health knowledge.

 

Continuing innovation in 2021

 

The changes brought about in 2020 will make for a very different healthcare sector compared to years before. Although the industry was making strides in advanced medical discoveries, using AI, and embracing emerging technology like the IoT, this has been fast-tracked due to the pandemic. The focus must now be on consolidating all innovations made in 2020 - figuring out what new processes and technology worked best for patients and where continued investment should be made. This must be done with an eye on future challenges, such as the aging population, increased patient expectations, and drive towards greater cost-effectiveness.