With the end of 2018 just around the corner, it’s time to reflect on what’s arguably been one of the biggest years for the proliferation of digital healthcare solutions for medical practitioners and patients.
From the heart-monitoring features of the Apple Watch, increased use of patient online booking systems in general practices, to hospitals discharging patients with smartphone apps, the end-to-end medical experience is transforming to match everyday digital lifestyles.
In this two-part series, I have teamed up with my colleague, MedicalDirector Chief Clinical Advisor and GP Dr Charlotte Middleton, to bring you what we see as the top digital healthcare trends for 2019. 
An AI-enabled healthcare ecosystem 
Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining traction in healthcare, and has the potential to drive better health outcomes in the near future. A recent McKinsey report outlines the opportunities that lie in AI and robotics for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, including the potential to transform trials, research, and clinical practice.
But integrating AI processes in healthcare will only be successful if we include an emotional layer to it. It’s a topic I am passionate about and discussed a few weeks ago at the AI, Robotics and Machine-Learning in Health conference.
Health is a highly emotional topic for everyone and the relationship with patients must be dealt with a high level of caution and empathy. Automated communication, processes or health predictions are on the horizon but with an extra layer of analysis considering the unique context of each individual patient and their circumstances.
Taking this precaution will help avoid negative repercussions, especially in an industry where a single mistake can lead to a life-or-death situation for a patient.
Virtual Reality as a cornerstone of medical training
Virtual reality (VR) is set to change the way physicians learn and practice their craft in the year ahead and beyond.
There have been some impressive inroads made with VR in health training – even more interesting given the relatively slow uptake of the technology from a consumer entertainment perspective. Telsyte predicts the market will reach 25 per cent consumer penetration by 2021, meaning it is still some years away from being mainstream.
High costs of entry and accessibility to the equipment make it better suited for the professional realm, facilitating important education and learning in general practice and clinical studies alike.
Going a step further, VR could play a vital role in facilitating better patient engagement in 2019 and beyond, through offering a more personalised approach to the patient experience. And we’ll continue to see greater momentum build around the innovative applications of VR to better explain conditions, symptoms, or medication to clients, or demonstrate what they can expect in upcoming procedures.
Genomic testing and precision medicine redefining the possibilities of medicine
The coming year will see a tipping point for the application of genomics, precision medicine and personalised medicine. But this will only be successful if the profession ensures there are evidence-based systems in place to ensure genomic results are obtained in a way they can be trusted and acted upon in a reliable manner.
The challenge will lie in correctly distilling the information obtained in these processes and applying them in a way that has the best impact on a patient’s health. For example, you may be reveal a condition the patient is pre-disposed to without offering enough context or information – and they could make decisions that inadvertently impact their time, money, resources and wellbeing in the long term unnecessarily.
2019 will be the year we need to give the approach to genomics further thought and collaboration as a profession to develop strict guidelines around using it in the most appropriate, patient-centric way.
Healthcare finds its feet in the cloud
Cloud-based practice solutions are quickly gaining traction as traditional server-based practice management fails to keep up with the pace of change demanded by doctors and patients alike. Cloud technology is becoming an essential component of the modern medical practice, particularly in the realm of interoperability.
Full interoperability in healthcare has the potential to enable easier real-time collaboration within the industry, exchanging and interpreting patient data in a more efficient and accurate way to enhance the patient experience. Greater agility of secure data exchange across clinical practice, labs, hospitals and pharmacies through application-neutral software is the core tenant of interoperability.
Moving forward, it is set to offer a more collaborative, efficient and agile health ecosystem because it is not restricted across organisational or systematic boundaries in the same way other data exchanges are.
For cloud to continue to be a trusted part of the medical ecosystem, it must support interoperability as a priority heading into 2019.
Watch out for the second part of this prediction series soon.
Matthew Bardsley is the CEO of MedicalDirector.



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