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The healthcare industry shifted a lion’s share of processes into virtual platforms and digital technologies, practically overnight. Responding with amazing speed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry managed a decade’s worth of reforms just in a few months.

#1 Telehealth Explosion

Pandemic-induced telehealth boom grew upon as both patients and providers were looking for ways to safely access and deliver healthcare. According to McKinsey & Company, in April 2020, telehealth utilization for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher in comparison to February 2020. 

In the epoch of the pandemic, telehealth offered a bridge between consumers and providers that were able to meet all regulatory changes and enable much better access and reimbursement. As of July 2021, telehealth usage has ballasted at levels 38 times higher than before the pandemic outbreak. Doctors of all specialties have seen a rise in telehealth visits from 13% to 17%. Correspondingly, investment in virtual care and telehealth also increased 3 times with the level of venture capital in 2020, if compared to 2017.

By 2027, the telehealth market size is expected to reach $559.52 billion with a CAGR of 25.2%. The key factors that impact such rapid growth include:

  • Established positive effects of telemedicine health control;
  • Fast growth in medical expenses for government and private fields;
  • Urgent need for effective need prevention and treatment of COVID-19;
  • Significant physiological impact on patients of the pandemic;
  • A shift to consumer-oriented delivery of medical treatment.
The rising demand for instant counseling, lack of doctors, social distancing, and huge workloads of medical centers have accelerated the adoption of telemedicine. According to Medical Economics, 83% of patients state that they don’t plan to stop using telemedicine applications even when the global lockdown is over.

#2 Building Digital Solutions to Ease Physician Load

Clinician burnout was considered a global health crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 60% of healthcare providers reporting at least one symptom of burnout. Under significantly increased workloads, physicians faced an urgent need for digital-first models of care that could help them mitigate the stress and reduced time spent on administrative tasks. Electronic health records, or EHRs, have become a golden standard in reducing paperwork and saving physicians’ time.

EHR stands for a system intended for medical data capture, storage, and exchange. The solution has already gone far from a single assigned physician and involves clinical and laboratory personnel, emergency facilities, pharmaceutical stores, and other parties involved in healthcare. These systems allow physicians and other healthcare providers to instantly access patients’ information, safely exchange data, facilitate diagnostics and prevent errors, cut costs, reduce paperwork, streamline the billing process, and finally, handle all these processes securely, in compliance with HIPAA law.

In 2018, 92.1% of office-based physicians in the US used EMR/EHR systems while 2.26 billion prescriptions were sent electronically in 2020. In 2022 and beyond, EHRs will continue becoming an indispensable tool not only for clinicians but the patients they serve with rates higher than ever at around 89%. Though with some significant changes strongly required. 

According to a Stanford Medicine survey, 59% of physicians mentioned that their EHR systems needed significant changes. Most EHR/EMR software was built on obsolete platforms with very poor UX, as they started as billing systems slowly adding new functions. Healthcare providers will be forced to rebuild their outdated and unfriendly systems, implementing changes into them: leveraging more AI and IoT for more accurate data analytics, blockchain technology to ensure data security, and wearables to boost patient health engagement.

# 3 Cyber Threats as a Major Problem in Healthcare Industry

Cyber-attacks remain a top industry risk within healthcare. According to Breach reports to the Office for Civil Rights, 225 hacking-related incidents were recorded in the timespan from January to June 2021 and affected more than 21 million people. Such attacks involve stealing valuable patient information and demanding payment from healthcare organizations to retrieve the stolen information. 

In 2015, Anthem (formerly known as WellPoint) disclosed that hackers received access to a corporate database through a phishing email. The lawbreakers stole around 79 million records that included names, medical IDs, Social Security and insurance membership numbers, and employment information. The largest healthcare cyberattack in history cost Anthem Inc $115 million and resulted in the triplication of its cybersecurity budget.

  • In 2018, the unknown hacker accessed and stole patient data consisting of medical and payment card information, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and addresses from the American Medical Collection Agency which served billing collections for Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, and other healthcare providers. The attack affected 26 million people and resulted in the company's bankruptcy.
  • A phishing email that had been sent to a Premera Blue Cross employee led to the data breach that cost the company $74 million. The employee clicked the link that was included in the email and downloaded the document that enabled hackers to access Premera's server. The company couldn’t detect the breach for eight months and hired a cybersecurity consulting company. Premera paid $74 million to settle a class-action lawsuit which was the result of a data breach.
  • In 2015, Excellus Health Plan Inc reported that the personal information of more than 10 million customers might be exposed as a result of a cyberattack that happened in 2013. The third-party, hired to conduct a forensic review, found out that a large amount of Excellus client data was compromised. Despite the fact that affected data was encrypted, the hackers got access to administrative protocols, making the encryption moot.
  • In 2011, the medical records of millions of military patients and their families were stolen as a result of a data breach in Science Application International Corporation. The records of 4.9 million people were stolen from a data contractor’s car as they were stored on backup tapes.   

Such incidents regularly happen in the healthcare industry: the University of California in 2014, Advocate Medical Group in 2013, Medical Informatics Engineering in 2015, and many more organizations became victims of cyberattacks, losing millions of dollars and most important - their patients’ trust. Given the critical role of data security in the industry, healthcare providers must make a genuine effort to protect patients’ information and steer clear of the misfortune of many organizations that suffered from data breaches. 

#4 A Flexible and Responsive Supply Chain Long-Term

Within the healthcare industry, the supply chain encompasses pharmaceutical products that are critical for a high standard of care for patients and provide supplies of medication for pharmacies. It is estimated that the supply chain includes 30% of operational costs for hospitals. One of the major problems in healthcare in 2021 and rolling over into 2022 was the understanding that supply chains became inflexible and were built on outdated frameworks. Therefore it’s vital for healthcare providers to manage supply chains efficiently and meet the cost objectives, facing the following issues:

  • Product life cycle. As soon as the product is patented, it might take up to eight years to turn it into something that can be marketed. When the patent expires, alternative products can enter the market, or companies can reduce the product price. New technologies are reducing life cycles creating new pressures on distribution channels.
  • Profit margins. Even though separate units of pharmaceutical products are rather expensive, operating margins are not so in the wholesaler sector particularly because of hospitals’, retailers’, and manufacturers’ control over the pricing.
  • Forecasting. The difficulty to predict the exact demand for medicines because of the absence of accurate data on consumption and the lack of standard nomenclature for healthcare products.
  • Lack of supply chain education. Managers are not well informed and equipped to control the supply of medication.

All the aforementioned issues will be actively addressed by healthcare providers in 2022 through the implementation of e-procurement systems to significantly reduce purchasing costs by the consolidation of supplier networks, ERP systems to provide an automated and paperless format for information to communicate through organizations.

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