2020 was a challenging year. Healthcare organizations were confronted with strengthening and optimizing their workflows to accommodate a high volume of infectious patients, and supporting employees as they responded to a global health crisis. The healthcare technology companies that support the technical infrastructure of these organizations have been similarly challenged this year—to provide a system that is agile, flexible and above all, reliable.

Many healthcare technologies rose to this challenge. From adding new features, capabilities and integrations that frontline workers could leverage, to developing a comprehensive protocol for remote implementations and technological support, many of the technological accommodations companies made this year will guide the future of the healthcare technology industry. This is especially true of the clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) industry, as reliable, seamless communication has been a critical element to supporting patient care this year.

Going into next year, healthcare organizations should expect to see cutting-edge CC&C technology gain even more ground and continue to shift into a workhorse role within the healthcare enterprise. 2021 will very likely bring a heavier emphasis on interoperability with the EHR vendor, a more significant movement away from on-premises and toward cloud hosting. Finally, the healthcare technology companies that will make the biggest difference next year are those that manifest a philosophy and value system around integrations.

What should we expect in 2021?

1. CC&C at the Center of COVID-19 Vaccine Programs

Healthcare organizations that have installed enterprise-wide CC&C have a big advantage as the planning for COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins. The frontline staff, at the head of the queue for a vaccine, need to be reached quickly and efficiently to schedule inoculations.

Most facilities know that their patient-facing staff do not regularly sit in front of a desktop system, nor do they have work email addresses. They do, however, have smartphones as used in their CC&C deployments. The plans for using these CC&C platforms in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution programs are as follows:

  1. Inform: Leverage the one-to-many broadcast capability to inform staff about the vaccine. When and where will it be available? Who will be first in the queue? Administrators can send messages by role, or to entire groups of facilities at a time.
  2. Call to Action: Your CC&C platform’s ability to link and launch other products is a great tool to encourage staff to register for their inoculation. This harnesses the power of a personalized “push message” to a staff member and provides a simple, clear method to register and schedule.

Facilities are already planning to utilize CC&C as a key component of their COVID-19 vaccine program and they will realize tremendous additional value out of their investment in the software and the smartphones.

2. Interoperate for a More Dynamic EHR

Healthcare organizations have already hit a massive wall when it comes to EHR use. Clinicians spend so much of their time working within the EHR, and often they need to switch between the EHR and other devices in order to quickly coordinate patient care. They could be updating a patient’s chart and need to confirm a medication dosage with a care team member—30 minutes later they have tried calling, texting and paging the provider, and the clinician needs to log back into the EHR in order to complete the chart.

This frustrating workflow is a common cause of bottlenecks, so organizations should expect to see the healthcare technology industry take some strides in this area, likely in the form of a more interoperable EHR experience. Recent updates to interoperability regulations from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has created a wealth of new opportunity for health IT companies to solve for this problem.

3. Cloud Offerings Bring Agility

Cloud computing has been around for decades now, and over the last few years it has become an everyday fixture of our personal interactions with technology. We use cloud storage for everything from applications to music to photos for any and all of our personal devices—smartphones, tablets and computers alike. It’s no secret that this technology has been making headway in the healthcare market. However, in 2021, we see cloud moving into the spotlight.

The major selling point for cloud next year is that it can enable remote installations and updates of mission-critical systems, reducing the need for on-site technology support and minimizing the number of employees (and vendor representatives) who need to be physically present during go-lives and upgrades.

Expect healthcare technology companies to increasingly offer cloud hosting as an option in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This move will allow your organization to quickly provide technology that supports your clinicians without the added manpower that would have been necessary in the past.

4. Support Workflows With High-Value Integrations

Integrations are also part of our vision of 2021 but make no mistake: These are not the pre-pandemic integrations you’re thinking of. Before this year, healthcare technology companies often boasted surface-level integrations that ultimately provided very little value for clinicians.

Then, as the pandemic swept the United States, healthcare organizations across the country had to adapt their existing workflows very quickly to be as streamlined and efficient as possible. Facilities were forced to do away with anything that wasn’t working nor was reliable, and what remains are high-value integrations that return precious time to care and facilitate care team coordination.

In 2021, your organization should seek to identify more of these high-value integrations, and the best way to do that is to work with a healthcare technology company that views interoperability as a company philosophy. Companies that truly value integration as one of their main pillars will be constantly developing singular new partnerships, rigorously vetting vendors and putting every new API through a comprehensive certification process to ensure that organizations are only receiving the highest quality technology.

5. Machine Learning at the Forefront

Buzzwords like artificial intelligence and machine learning have been a part of the “future of the healthcare technology landscape” for several years. In 2021, however, expect to see new products that leverage machine learning deployed at scale. What you should look for is commercial availability, particularly around smartphone delivery, which will be available to help clinicians accomplish two critical tasks:

  1. Retrieve and aggregate for viewing an instantaneous patient snapshot from a variety of legacy systems.
  2. Set patient-specific alerts based on clinical criteria. For example: “Please alert me when this patient is K>5.”

With speech recognition and the ability to continually learn how each clinician prefers to interact with the vast amount of available patient data, these new technologies will dramatically alter how a clinician utilizes CC&C technology and will become the centerpiece of smartphone usage in healthcare.

As your organization finishes 2020 and plans for the new year, keep these initiatives at the forefront of your technology strategy. By taking advantage of these developments in our industry, you can better support your clinicians during the pandemic, facilitate quicker advancement of patient care and keep your organization on the cutting edge of healthcare technology.