A year ago, we wrote a blog setting out our predictions for the year ahead in healthcare technology. We discussed the continued preparations for Paperless 2020, and suggested that the move to electronic health records (EHR) would be increasingly prominent in NHS organisations, and for digital interfaces to be an increasingly common sight in hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries.

We suggested, also, that the manufactures of healthcare wearables and in particular technology giants like Amazon, Google and Apple would be competing with each other to release the next must-have device, as consumers became ever more comfortable with the idea of tracking vital health stats through a smart watch or similar.

So how accurate were we, and where are we now?

The consensus seems to be that the 2020 deadline for a fully digitised NHS will be missed, with reports in May of this year that just one in ten Trusts were where they needed to be. However, as we predicted, the migration to paperless processes was high on the agenda this year, and it would be foolish to predict anything different in 2020. No matter who is in government, investment in the NHS has been promised, and it seems likely that some of this will be focused on the cost savings, efficiency, accuracy and collaboration fostered by the move away from paper.

As for wearable healthcare technology, we like to think we were accurate with our forecasting there, too. As reported in October, the wearables market is growing at an incredible rate. Fitbit has released several new fitness trackers this year, whilst the fifth generation of the Apple Watch was also announced. And, like the increasing visibility of digital touchscreens and paperless processes within the NHS, we expect this trend to continue in 2020. Articles setting out the best trackers for 2020 indicate just how diverse and dynamic this sector is becoming, with the public becoming ever more comfortable with the idea of tracking factors like their heart rate or the amount of exercise undertaken.

Healthcare wearables are part of the much broader Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, and in terms of healthcare IoT devices, the possibilities go far beyond connected wristbands and watches. Many companies are experimenting with connected devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers with can be implanted into patients’ bodies and ensure a more intelligent and automated approach to key clinical practices. Like wearable devices before them, we expect such connected healthcare equipment to grow in profile throughout 2020, though not without growing attention paid to its security and privacy. This will be particularly pertinent in the United States, where people have understandable concerns about the healthcare data being collected and used to affect their insurance premiums.

Of course, all these devices generate an enormous amount of information, and one area which we expect to see really taking off in terms of healthcare technology in 2020 is big data analytics. Medical innovation and clinical decision-making has always depended on practitioners having access to data on how multiple patients have fared under a particular programme of treatment – or on how particular conditions correlate with particular circumstances. One of the most exciting possibilities of the big data era is how unprecedented volumes of healthcare information could be collected, processed and turned into genuinely lifesaving insights.

This brings us to the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, which we expect to see becoming increasingly prominent in 2020. The possibilities, again, are broad. AI has a vital role to play in spotting trends in healthcare data and building algorithms to test out, for example, new approaches to cancer care. Conferences such as ‘AI and Big Data in Cancer’, planned for March, will grow in frequency and prominence in 2020.

All in all, there are exciting months ahead for the healthcare sector. As AI, the IoT and big data analytics grow in sophistication, the possibilities for more intelligent and proactive approaches to diagnosis, treatment and disease prevention are enormous. Happy new year!

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