IDC Expert Shares Insights on Healthcare’s Digital-Focused Future

Leading healthcare organizations will continue to embrace hybrid work, AI, and ESG in the coming years, new research shows. Mutaz Shegewi, research director at IDC, discusses how new investments in digital technology will be crucial and shares what’s coming next in healthcare.

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Artificial intelligence (AI). Location-agnostic care and hybrid workforces. Virtual reality and the metaverse. When it comes to digital technologies and the future of healthcare, there’s much more to come. The opportunity in the industry is accelerating—and healthcare organizations poised to thrive are those making investments that enable a wide-angle, digital-first strategy. 

That takeaway emerged loud and clear during a recent conversation I had with Mutaz Shegewi, research director at IDC Health Insights, which released its IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Healthcare Industry 2023 Predictions report in late 2022.1 As Shegewi notes—and healthcare leaders increasingly recognize—the ability to innovate, retain talent, and meet patients’ rising expectations starts with effective technology.

Organizations are rightly focused on building “digital front doors” that provide patients with the convenience and flexibility akin to other industries. But in a persistently tight labor market, meeting employee expectations and preventing burnout also matters, Shegewi says, and digital technologies such as analytics and workplace automation will continue to play crucial roles for meeting those challenges. In fact, IDC predicts that by 2024 more than one-third of healthcare organizations will have hybrid work models in place that deliver more virtualized and automated workplaces, leading to greater patient and workforce satisfaction.

Below I share a few highlights from my wide-ranging conversation with Shegewi on what’s ahead for the healthcare industry and how healthcare leaders are approaching 2023—and beyond.

How will emerging hybrid work models impact healthcare organizations?

Hybrid work models enable organizations to deliver location-agnostic care, offering patients digital-first options that complement in-person care. Big picture, as hybrid models mature we’ll see ways of working that foster better collaboration between people and various technologies. Expect enhanced automation in the enterprise and greater deployment of connected devices to achieve connected care through the hybridization of work.

“We expect that by the end of 2027, one out of five large hospitals will have established AI-driven command centers to improve everything from care coordination to cost reduction to improved operations.”

Mutaz Shegewi Research Director IDC Health Insights

Organizations will be better at addressing important issues like staff burnout to improve workforce satisfaction levels, which will elevate the experience of all stakeholders. If your staff is happy, it’s more likely that your patients will be happy as well. So hybrid work can positively impact both staff and patients. 

Are there specific technologies that organizations should be investing in to better support the continued movement to hybrid work and employee engagement?

A diverse range of technologies should be in the mix. Everything from dedicated workspace tools that allow workers to collaborate more effectively, to having multiple devices allowing people to work anytime, anywhere through cross-platform applications. That’s all in addition to having analytics, connectivity, and security in place, along with the core clinical and operational applications. 

That operational component is important to emphasize. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of supply chain vulnerabilities and contributed to workforce shortages. And those shortages are projected to get even more challenging. Organizations need to invest in tools that make workflows quicker, more flexible, and more accessible, so they can onboard workers faster and have better insights into operations and supply chains. So it’s a range of capabilities brought through IT investments that contributes to the shift to hybrid.

By the end of 2025, your team at IDC predicts 65% of healthcare organizations will have data governance frameworks in place that prioritize the ethical and explainable use of AI for predictive, preventive, and personalized care. What should healthcare leaders be thinking about right now when it comes to data and AI? 

It’s important to have a baseline set of principles and guidelines whenever you’re dealing with patient data, especially when AI is in the mix. We’ve seen a lot of progress in terms of what data scientists, the industry, and academia are doing collectively to address the potential likelihood for biases to manifest in AI.

“Organizations should view digital-first strategies through a wide lens. These aren’t just patient-facing initiatives, they’re staff-facing as well.”

To mitigate risks, organizations need a well thought-out and constructed framework for dealing with data from a governance standpoint, from both a research and technological standpoint. For example, we think the AI environment should ideally be separate from the rest of the data infrastructure. Where possible, make use of containers and virtual machines to ensure there are no vulnerabilities. Adhere to best practices around coding standards and review processes. There’s a lot that organizations can and should do to ensure the utmost level of ethical excellence relative to AI, and also ensure their data is protected.

What else should healthcare organizations think about when using AI to recruit and retain workers?

Organizations need to be thinking about the ethical use of AI. We think that just as important as the efficacy of AI, if not more important, is how explainable the use of AI is. There needs to be better visibility into the AI data, and there needs to be more federated access to ensure recruiting and retention practices are lawful and ethical. At the same time, having a good data governance framework in place will help to recruit workers on a more equitable basis.

Your team predicts that by 2026, digital acceleration and data-driven policies will scale health equity in 60% of healthcare organizations, sparking further investments for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. How will ESG initiatives continue to impact healthcare organizations?

One of the important things about ESG is it provides aspirational goals that organizations can allocate resources toward and benchmark progress against. From a healthcare standpoint, and with social and governance considerations in particular, organizations can foster the wellbeing of the community and larger populations, not only patients. But it’s hard to navigate in that direction unless you have declared identifiable goals and have a framework in place to pursue them. 

This is where data-driven approaches can be so valuable. Sometimes organizations are confident in their ability to deliver care, but when they actually do the work and look into the data, often they’ll find variations and outcomes that aren’t necessarily aligned with their aspirations for the organization. So having the right analytics tools in place is the way forward. Organizations need a broad set of analytics that can provide data on everything from clinical to operational to population health to social determinants and even consumer data. It all combines to offer a longitudinal and 360-degree view of patients and care-seeking consumers. In this way, digital acceleration can help promote health equity and drive progress toward ESG goals.  

How do you see digital-first strategies and enterprise technology investments delivering value to healthcare organizations?

Most obvious is they help to create a digital front door that gives patients convenience and better meets their expectations of providers. That’s a big deal. Digital-first is about offering an experience that can respond to the shifting wants and needs of patients and consumers.

“Organizations need to invest in tools that make workflows quicker, more flexible, and more accessible, so they can onboard workers faster and have better insights into operations.”

It’s also important for employee retention. Having modern technologies in place to meet employee expectations for convenience matters. I always touch on onboarding because it’s such a complex, prolonged, and difficult process, oftentimes involving credentialing. If you can make these things easier and more efficient, you’re going to help people create more work-life balance—and that will contribute to the organization’s ability to retain people in such a competitive labor market. 

So organizations should view digital-first strategies through a wide lens. These aren’t only patient-facing initiatives, they’re staff-facing as well.

What other emerging tech trends should healthcare leaders be tracking?

I’d flag three trends. There’s real value coming through digital twins, particularly for hospitals, which can use them to conduct simulation exercises that help assess the safety of a new intervention or treatment modality. 

On the AI front, we expect that by the end of 2027, one out of five large hospitals will have established AI-driven command centers to improve everything from care coordination to cost reduction to improved operations. 

And then there’s the emerging metaverse. It’s early days, but we think that by 2028 about 10% of large hospitals will have a presence in the metaverse. And it’s a new frontier for medical education and training—that’s where we see metaverse applications potentially being deployed first, as opposed to direct diagnostic value. 

That said, we already know that virtual-world benefits can translate to real-world outcomes. Virtual reality (VR) is being used, for example, in pediatric oncology. Children bedridden with oncological conditions can get access to the same experiences that their friends have at school or their families have at home through the VR environment. The potential for virtual-world healthcare is real, and it can take on new directions through the metaverse.

1IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Healthcare Industry 2023 Predictions (IDC #US48587222, October 2022)

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