Happy holidays innovators!
As we bid farewell to 2023, it’s time to reflect on the remarkable advancements and notable trends in healthcare technology. Over the past year, several areas have seen unprecedented breakthroughs that promise to transform the landscape of healthcare. Not every trend is in our immediate wheelhouse at Innovaccer—but each doubles and triples down on the need to connect and curate the world’s healthcare data to make it accessible and useful.
Let’s dive in.
#1 The March to Value-Based Care
A November Innovaccer blog, The Future of Value-Based Care and Alternative Healthcare Payment Models, opened with stats on how the US healthcare system continues to face challenges such as rising costs and declining quality. According to the Commonwealth Fund Report, the US has spent 17.8% of its GDP on healthcare, yet it is the only country, among OECD nations in the report, that doesn’t have universal health coverage. Notably, the US has one of the lowest life expectancy rates at birth, the highest rate of people with multiple chronic conditions, and an obesity rate nearly twice the OECD average.
The current strains on our health system are unsustainable and require innovative payment models and new risk-bearing paradigms. In 2023 the emergence of AI and new healthcare technologies has brought about a significant transformation in the industry. These technologies are paving the way for an effective shift towards value-based care (VBC) and innovative payment models that realign incentives to focus on outcomes over volume.
“The way to transform healthcare is to realign competition with value for patients,” notes Michael E. Porter, professor and author, at Harvard Business School. “Value in healthcare is the health outcome per dollar of cost expended. If all system participants have to compete on value, value will improve dramatically.”
The move from fee-for-service (FFS) to VBC and alternative payment models (APMs) focuses on improving patient outcomes and reducing costs for both patients and healthcare providers. A value-driven approach in healthcare, led by VBC models, prioritizes quality of care above quantity. As technology and data analytics advance, these models offer patients improved healthcare experiences and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the healthcare system.
Providers will depend on a blend of technologies, including the cloud and preferred data technology of their partners to successfully navigate VBC and alternative payment models. Healthcare stakeholders should embrace these changes and strive for an efficient, effective, and equitable healthcare system.
#2 “Amazon Thinking” Shaping the Focus on Patient Experience
The primary care landscape, traditionally led by fee-for-service models, is facing increasing competition from the retail sector. According to a report by the American Hospital Association, hospitals, and other traditional healthcare providers will find it challenging to ignore these disruptors in the next decade.
The report refers to an analysis by Bain & Company, which predicts that the entrance of new health service providers like Amazon, Walmart, and CVS could potentially hold a significant 30% share of the $260 billion primary care market by 2030.
As patients expect real-world and digital services to be convenient and of high quality, providers face increasing competition. Furthermore, patients now have a wide range of options for primary and specialist care, including digital channels, telemedicine, retail clinics, ambulatory centers, and even e-commerce platforms like Amazon.
Currently, healthcare services often fall short of meeting patient expectations. Patients commonly complain about the lack of convenience, long wait times for appointments, and the extended periods spent in waiting rooms. Difficulties in accessing and sharing medical records, poor customer service, and the need to repeatedly provide personal information on paper are additional sources of frustration. Furthermore, patients struggle with the lack of continuity between visits or care sites, and they often receive inadequate reminders for wellness and ongoing medical needs. Digital access to long-term records, tests, and images is unreliable, and sharing this information with specialists or other healthcare providers can be a cumbersome process.
“With these players moving into the home health and primary care markets, hospitals and physician practices stand to lose younger, healthier patients to these non-traditional models,” says Colin Banas, M.D., chief medical officer at DrFirst. “That could end up disrupting traditional care models because of the higher costs to care for the sickest patients.”
Today, with access to comprehensive consumer, patient, and population data, care providers have the tools to perform at their best. This data, however, needs to be readily available to marketers, physicians, clinicians, and other healthcare professionals on the care team. With more comprehensive patient knowledge, they can achieve a high level of personalization, earning the loyalty and engagement of their patients. This level of patient satisfaction goes beyond meeting clinical and financial objectives, regardless of the reimbursement model in place. By successfully delivering this level of personalized care to all their patients, providers can position themselves for success in the market against retail giants like Amazon, CVS, Walmart, and others.
#3 AI Poised to Revolutionize Healthcare
Artificial Intelligence continued to revolutionize healthcare in 2023. When language-based generative AI arrived on the scene, headlined by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, suddenly, an AI that uses so-called “large language models” or “LLMs” could be tapped by anyone on the planet, using the most natural interface we have—human language.
In a recent blog, we wrote about creating the next-generation infrastructure for AI. Many are talking about how AI will transform diagnosis and care plans. Machine learning algorithms, fed with vast amounts of patient data, will ultimately accelerate clinical capabilities in detecting diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular conditions, and neurological disorders.
However, healthcare has many more use cases for AI. Some of them may seem like low-hanging fruit—but these use cases have the advantages of being practical, impactful, and safe in application while serving as a huge boost to productivity, coordination, and cost-effectiveness. The integration of AI in healthcare holds the promise of transforming the standard of care for patients worldwide. The AI tidal wave is here. And it’s going to be a huge productivity booster.
This is why Innovaccer developed four AI functions for Sara for Healthcare in 2023:
#4 GLP-1s Changing the Game for Weight Loss and Chronic Illness
Science named GLP-1s the Breakthrough of the Year—and for good reason. In the US about 70% of adults are dealing with the effects of excess weight. These drugs, which mimic the action of the glucagon-like peptide 1 hormone, were developed to treat type 2 diabetes. But, researchers soon discovered that GLP-1s had unexpected benefits with weight loss, cardiovascular health, and even alleviating addiction to alcohol.
“GLP-1s are reshaping medicine, popular culture, and even global stock markets in ways both electrifying and discomfiting,” writes Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in Science. “This year clinical trials found that they also cut symptoms of heart failure and the risk of heart attacks and strokes, the most compelling evidence yet that the drugs have major benefits beyond weight loss itself.”
Obesity is one of the leading causes of many chronic illnesses ranging from diabetes and heart disease to hypertension and cancer. Instantly popular for weight loss to improve health, the market demand for GLP-1s soared. More significantly, care providers, insurers, policymakers, and researchers began to explore the possibility of using GLP-1s to help reduce the incidence of chronic disease.
By helping at-risk people manage obesity, GLP-1s are helping them avoid debilitating and expensive chronic illnesses. Identifying at-risk people and populations, tracking their health, and continuing to keep them healthy will require data and integrated solutions. Although GLP-1s are expensive, reducing chronic health will reduce the cost of healthcare.
#5 CRISPR Makes Personalized Medicine a Reality
Since cracking the human genome in 2003, scientists have pursued the possibility that one day we would be able to decode the genetic causes of disease and prevent, repair, or even reverse their progress. 20 years later, that promise appears to be on the verge of becoming a reality.
"When I started, there was nothing that indicated that it was going to one day help people to cure genetic diseases. I think it's amazing," says Luciano Marraffini, Rockefeller's Kayden Family Professor. "Most scientists, especially in biomedical sciences, hope to have some positive impact on society. I feel very privileged to have done something that will help people."
Having harnessed the power of CRISPR to edit genes, scientists are now applying the technology to specific diseases such as sickle cell anemia, some forms of blindness, and pediatric leukemia. Cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and various forms of cancer are on the horizon. Both the UK and the US recently approved the first CRISPR-based gene therapy for sickle cell disease, and the blood disease beta-thalassemia, which is linked to anemia and poor growth, is expected to get approval in 2024.
As scientists learn more every year, CRISPR brings us closer to a future where disease can be treated at the DNA level. And access to high-quality data is central to the success of those efforts.
#6 The Continuing Concern of Physician Burnout
The demanding and high-pressure nature of the healthcare profession continues to take a toll on caregivers and physicians. Last year alone, 71,309 doctors quit the profession. In a recent survey, nearly 70% of physicians reported feeling burned out, and the number one item causing burnout is too much paperwork and regulations.
According to the CDC, burnout has reached a crisis level as health workers face a mental health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified existing challenges in the industry: fatigue, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts. The consequences of burnout can include increased medical errors, decreased job satisfaction, and compromised patient care. The AMA announced on December 18 that reducing burnout is essential to high-quality patient care and a sustainable health system. Unless we can find ways to reduce the demands on care teams, physicians, particularly in primary care, will be even more burned out over the next decade.
Recognizing the urgency, healthcare organizations, and policymakers are implementing programs and solutions that reduce workloads, streamline workflows, and automate routine tasks using AI tools and a clinical decision support mechanism (CDSM). They are also encouraging organizations to outsource time-consuming tasks such as prior authorizations.
The AMA’s STEPS Forward® program, a collection of online toolkits, helps medical teams make changes to their practice to help manage stress, prevent burnout, and improve workflows. CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also launched a Federal campaign for hospitals to tackle healthcare workers' burnout.
#7 Wearables Go to the Next Level
Due to the increasing demand for better patient care, an emphasis on patient-centered care, and the rising cost of traditional healthcare, the global remote patient monitoring (RPM) market in terms of revenue was estimated to be worth $14.0 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach $31.3 billion by 2028 with significant growth in telehealth services, wearable devices, and mobile health apps.
With the introduction of Fitbit and the Apple Watch, wearables have empowered consumers to actively participate in their health management. These devices make it easier to track, study, learn from, adapt to, and report healthcare data. And the range of data continues to expand—from heart rate to physical activity, sleep patterns, stress levels, and even glucose levels through non-invasive glucose monitoring.
Wearables and RPM devices have quickly become indispensable tools for wellness management and disease prevention. This technology allows doctors and healthcare professionals to monitor their patients’ health in real time, without the need for in-person visits. They can better track their patients’ health over time and make more informed decisions. Increasingly they are being used to detect or predict falls, neurological disorders, and even the onset of chronic disease. In turn, they can prompt, encourage, coach, and gamify self-care ranging from the adoption of new habits, better mental health, sleep quality, nutrition, exercise, and more.
As RPM technology is adopted in various care settings such as home health monitoring, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes, it will ensure better patient care and reduce hospital readmission penalties. Ensuring patient adherence to wearables, however, remains a primary challenge for RPMs, and inaccurate data can compromise trial outcomes and conclusions. The ability to parse and derive insights from that data is critical.
#8 Drug Discovery Makes a Transformational Leap
Drug discovery underwent a transformational leap in 2023, driven by advancements in AI, data analytics, and virtual clinical trials. The use of automation in drug discovery provides more consistent data that allows labs to make better decisions, faster. It also facilitates the testing of hundreds of thousands of compounds and samples. Automation is all about getting more connected data into scientists’ hands enabling them to review their work, make predictions, and move forward with studies.
“Effective AI calls for good data because you can predict a lot of things,” says Cyrill Brunner, application specialist at Bruker Daltonics. “But if your data is not good, your results will lack quality. It’s therefore vital to invest in high-quality instruments that have the ability to deliver quality data in a short time.”
With the aid of machine learning algorithms and AI models, researchers can now scan potential drug molecules a thousand times faster. AI is also used to analyze vast data sets to identify new drug targets and potential treatments, and scientists are using data sets to identify new applications for existing drugs.
The increase in virtual clinical trials is helping to expand the diversity and precision of trial participants, accelerating development and improving results. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in December its commitment to expand diversity in clinical trials through increased Decentralized Clinical Trials (DCTs), clinical trials where some or all trial-related activities occur at locations other than traditional clinical trial sites such as telehealth.
#9 Homecare is on the Rise
2023 saw a significant shift towards homecare. The market has continued to expand due to an aging population, an increase in chronic conditions, and a consumer preference for the comfort of home over institutions.
Advancements in technology have enabled doctors and nurses to monitor patients remotely, reducing hospital readmissions and enhancing patient comfort. Telehealth platforms, remote patient monitoring devices, virtual consultations, and virtual/augmented reality devices have enhanced the level of engagement between patients and clinical care workers. They have proven valuable as home diagnostic tools for patients with chronic conditions and other illnesses.
“In 2024, I expect to see continued advancement in the integration of healthcare and home care fueled by technology and data collection,” says Home Health Care News writer, Joyce Famakinwa. “Remote monitoring for vitals and fall risks will help provide a more complete picture of patient health. Patient touch points will expand, furthering the collection of patient data. Increased capacity for predictive modeling through AI will empower home care leaders to enhance service offerings to improve the quality of care, patient health, comfort, and independence.”
CMS is encouraging and accelerating that shift through various value-based care programs and Medicare Advantage. In addition, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended telehealth coverage for Medicare recipients to the end of 2024, which will likely contribute to the increasing demand for at-home healthcare.
#10 Precision Public Health vs Precision Medicine
Precision public health means being more proactive and not waiting until people get sick and go to clinics and hospitals, while precision medicine is healthcare tailored for the individual. They both have a place in healthcare, but precision public health is about finding the real determinants of health and the root causes of disease. COVID-19 taught us that public health can’t be taken for granted and that data and analytics can help identify public health trends and accelerate effective responses.
“When you only really deal with problems after they emerge rather than addressing the determinants of health and real root causes of problems, you stay reactive rather than be proactive,” notes Bruce Y. Lee, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health in Forbes. “That’s what’s occurred in the US throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In 2023, AI has increasingly helped us identify at-risk groups, predict disease outbreaks, and target prevention measures. These range from a better understanding of a given population’s social and health equity needs to supporting coordinated efforts between traditional healthcare providers and social services organizations at the community level.
The 2023 Senior Report cited that for the second year in a row, the early death rate in the US continued to increase, reversing the trend of a decade-long decline. And research estimates that 48% of all premature deaths are due to preventable causes. According to the 2023 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, the number of people in the US over 65 increased from 40.2 million to 55.9 million between 2010 and 2021, or from 13.0% to 16.8% of the population. The Census Bureau projects that there will be two older adults for every three working-age adults by 2060. The implications are important for healthcare delivery because older adults are more likely to have chronic conditions, mental health disorders, and physical disabilities, increasing the costs of healthcare.
The US population has also become more diverse racially and ethnically, which indicates the need for more data for more culturally and linguistically appropriate services for pediatric care, obstetric care, and mental health care. Hispanic (16.3% to 18.7%), NH-multiracial (1.9% to 4.1%), and NH-Asian (4.7% to 5.9%) people increased as a share of the population. Plus, 92.2% are under age 65.
Blink Again and We’re in 2024
Time slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We blinked and 2023 is over. Healthcare’s accelerated pace of technology adoption has also been stunning. For decades, we force-marched our way through digitization efforts, slogged on to establish the vestiges of interoperability, and adopted new platforms like virtual health with an overabundance of caution.
The great leap we’ve now made in data and analytics—much of it powered by AI—changes the nature of the healthcare game. As an industry, we’re now racing to accept and embrace new breakthroughs across all aspects of healthcare—and somehow absorbing and integrating those advances at a rapid pace.
For an industry that needs a revolution in care delivery models, performance levels, access, precision, and engagement—the data-enabled technology breakthroughs of 2023 will be remembered as signposts directing us toward a radically enhanced healthcare future. 2023 was a wild ride, but hold on—there’s much more to come in 2024.