Virtual care, or interactions between patients and healthcare providers outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar setting, is starting to outpace those of outpatient care, as patients seek convenient, personalized digital experiences.

That’s according to a report by Forrester with predictions for healthcare in 2019. The report said 74% of adults in the United States have either used or expressed interest in using a remote health support service online — a number the consultancy expects will only grow next year.

Along with virtual care, Forrester predicted healthcare organizations will make advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard, and customer experience investments priorities in 2019.

Virtual care
Indeed, Arielle Trzcinski, a Forrester analyst and co-author of the report, described virtual care as the prediction that could have the greatest potential impact on healthcare in 2019.

“[Virtual care] will cause a big shift in how healthcare organizations operate and how clinicians operate, as well,” she said.

She said, as existing providers transform business models to more efficiently and cost-effectively deliver care, more and more of them will invest in ways to interact with patients digitally.

Jagmeet Singh, M.D., associate chief of the cardiology division, Massachusetts General Hospital’s Corrigan Minehan Heart CenterJagmeet Singh

“We have to be able to deliver care to the patients where they are and at the right time,” Singh said.

He said multidisciplinary teams will be able to virtually visit with patients simultaneously and provide integrated care needed by patients — particularly patients unable to travel from specialist to specialist.

The Forrester report cautioned that additional investment in virtual care could put a strain on providers, particularly in rural healthcare organizations already at risk of closure. The consultancy said it expects retail giants such as CVS, Walmart and Walgreens to fill the gap by offering virtual care services to patients.

Advanced analytics and AI
Advanced analytics, which includes AI, machine learning, data mining, and predictive and big data analytics in the report, will become standard for optimizing a healthcare organization’s workflows, according to Forrester. The report said analytics tools will help healthcare providers cull through troves of data to find important insights.

Arielle Trzcinski, Forrester analystArielle Trzcinski
“Analytics is going to be key in being able to make sense of that data,” Trzcinski said.

Of all the advanced analytics methodologies, Trzcinski said AI could have the most impact by improving the clinician workflow. For example, AI could remove some of the burden of tedious administrative tasks created by electronic health records (EHRs). And AI could help surface important new patient information from the EHR or capture key notes during the encounter, she said.

Mass General’s Singh said the recent advances of AI are due to improvement in computing abilities and the availability of big data. And he said he also expects to see continued growth in AI tools and advanced analytics healthcare in 2019.

“AI, it is the future,” he said.

Forrester predicted that, in 2019, two out of three U.S. patients will unknowingly be affected by AI, as it’s used by payers to predict a patient’s hospitalization risk, by providers for clinical decision support or by pharmaceutical companies.

Trzcinski said 2019 is going to see an influx of FHIR standard adoption, a standard for building EHR applications. She pointed to the large number of technology and retail giants who have announced support for FHIR as evidence.

During a meeting at the White House earlier this year about the Blue Button 2.0 API for Medicare, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, Google and Salesforce embraced the FHIR standard as a way of pledging their help in removing barriers to interoperability and improving data exchange. Last month, Microsoft announced the release of its FHIR Server for Azure, which provides developers with software supporting data management and exchange through the FHIR specification.

Having a widely adopted set of standards is a vital factor in achieving interoperability, Trzcinski said, and FHIR is gaining support as the next big framework for interoperability.

Customer experience
In 2019, healthcare organizations will start to focus on customer experience measurement frameworks and even tap into customer emotion, according to Forrester.

Forrester analysts believe healthcare organizations will minimize traditional, backward-looking approaches for measuring customer experience, such as star ratings and consumer assessment of healthcare providers and systems, and instead embrace tools that capture the customer experience in real time.

Traditional customer experience measurement approaches will act as supplements, while organizations use other metrics such as Net Promoter Score to measure the customer experience and provide feedback, according to the report.

Blockchain
While the blockchain hype will continue, Trzcinski said it’s not going to be a technology that’s widely adopted in healthcare in 2019.

“It’s a great buzzword to say, ‘Our solution is built on blockchain,’ but there is still a lot that needs to be proven there,” she said.

The promise around blockchain centers on its capabilities to build an immutable ledger, according to the report, but Trzcinski said more studies that prove blockchain’s value are needed.

Healthcare in 2019: Forrester tags virtual care as trend to watch