Five innovation trends that will impact the healthcare industry in 2019

What role will technology play in the healthcare industry in the next year?

For venture capitalists and others with interests in the healthcare industry, being able to anticipate industry innovations is critical. However, it isn’t enough to simply study emerging technology.

While understanding current innovations is important, we also need to study the underlying challenges they aim to solve. A solid grasp of how care delivery is changing provides deeper insights into how new technologies can advance care or resolve real industry problems.

To help you navigate the next year of healthcare changes, here are five health innovation trends that will impact the industry in 2019 and how you can prepare for them:

Behavioral Health Epidemic
There is little denying that the United States is in the throes of a serious opioid epidemic. Currently, over 130 people die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses. A full 80 percent of heroin users report misusing prescription opioids prior to moving on to using heroin.

While opioids are currently the top priority, this crisis really highlights an overall behavioral health epidemic. Identification and treatment of behavioral health issues range from eating disorders, anxiety and depression all the way to suicidal tendencies, yet the U.S. healthcare delivery system isn’t set up to quickly and accurately assess a patient’s mental health at all access points where care is delivered.

Costs for the treatment of behavioral health issues continue to mount. Methadone and buprenorphine treatment centers have grown in popularity over the past few years and will continue to grow. The healthcare costs for treatment of prescription opioid abuse alone is over $28.9 billion annually.

Unfortunately, the average delay between when symptoms of mental health difficulties first appear and when intervention begins is eight to 10 years. Healthcare providers need to get better at identifying and treating behavioral issues before they become a problem.

Expect mandated behavioral health screenings and technology designed to better manage dosages to rise in use. The search for alternatives to opioids as well as new processes and technology to prevent potential misuse of these drugs will be one of the most important trends next year.

Precision Medicine
Another trend that will greatly impact pharmaceutical research and healthcare technology is the rise of precision medicine or pharmacogenomics. This approach to patient care has seen great success in oncology by focusing on a patient’s protein interaction and genetic makeup for a better treatment prescription.

By comparing the DNA from a patient’s tumor to normal cells, researchers can learn how the cancer came about and where it may be most vulnerable for treatment. By tracking the genetic profiles of their patients’ tumors, doctors can also learn which treatments work best for which patients.

A new study by Scipher Medicine found that 65 percent of patients prescribed the world’s top five selling drugs didn’t respond to the therapy. The healthcare industry needs new ways to reduce overspending on prescription and pharmaceutical research, and precision medicine will provide an immediate impact.

In 2019, expect precision medicine to become more common outside of oncology. Already this year, a new study from Northwestern University brought precision medicine to rheumatoid arthritis by using genetic profiling of joint tissue to see which drugs would work for which patients. Studies into growing replacement tissues using a patient’s own stem cells are presenting completely new ways to tailor treatments. Researchers into multiple sclerosis are also now able to discover prognostic biomarkers to track and predict the course of an individual’s disease and predict which treatment will work best.

Look for pharmaceutical companies to invest heavily in precision medicine in the coming year.

Procedures Pushed to Outpatient Centers
We have seen the growing trend of patients being treated at outpatient surgical facilities over the past four to five years. Patients are being educated on the idea of “right care, right place, right time” to help them understand the benefit of timely treatment at a specialized center rather than defaulting to an inpatient hospital. Insurance companies have taken the lead at providing much of this education through incentives and authorization requirements that have moved traditional inpatient procedures to the outpatient environment.

Importantly, ambulatory surgery centers (ASC) and other outpatient centers are becoming more specialized and focused to allow for better patient care. Continued expansion of complex surgical procedures can be anticipated to continue into the outpatient arena with minimally invasive vascular procedures beginning in the ASC’s environment.

Several studies have indicated that ASCs have significantly better outcomes and lower infection rates, thus saving patients millions annually. Expect to see innovation in 2019 that caters to the needs of these more specialized centers.

Healthcare Cybersecurity
FortiGuard Labs reports that during the last year, the healthcare industry saw an average of 32,000 intrusion attacks per day per organization, compared to only 14,300 per organization in other industries. Unfortunately, healthcare organizations still lag far behind the cybersecurity standards that have been set in the finance and retail industries. And, this is despite the fact that healthcare data is typically more valuable to cybercriminals than any data available from financial services organizations or retailers. In fact, stolen health credentials can be worth 10 to 20 times more than credit card information on the black market.

Expect healthcare organizations to take big steps in 2019 to finally close the gap between healthcare cybersecurity standards and the standards of other industries. However, this year could be the worst the healthcare industry has ever seen in terms of breaches. Breaches over the past year have increased every quarter, with 4.39 million medical records exposed in Q3 alone. While healthcare IT invests in new security measures, cybercriminals are also demonstrating more sophisticated approaches that the industry will surely struggle to keep up with.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Healthcare

Another impactful trend shaping the healthcare industry is the growing prominence of artificial intelligence (AI) research and applications. Healthcare AI startups have seen a steady increase in the number of deals and equity funding in the past year, hitting a historic high last quarter. This makes healthcare the largest industry for AI deal activity.

Innovations in robotic process automation, manual task automation and deep learning are all opening the door for strong applications in the healthcare industry. Google’s DeepMind is planning clinical trials in 2019 for a product that will use AI to diagnose eye diseases. Apple is also investing in its ResearchKit and CareKit software frameworks that will use machine learning to provide medical researchers with more robust and meaningful data. BeyondVerbal is another AI engine that is studying voice patterns to diagnose chronic diseases over the phone.

There are hundreds of other promising new healthcare AI projects currently being launched and there will undoubtedly be hundreds more in 2019. Pharma companies in particular are jumping on this trend by investing earlier in artificial intelligence technology than usual. Expect there to be several major acquisitions of AI and machine-learning startups that significantly reshape the industry.

While these are some of the trends identified as being important in 2019, they really only scratch the surface. Healthcare professionals and investors will have to keep a close eye on these and other trends as they develop throughout the coming year and beyond. As the industry adjusts to improve patient care, investors must understand how to adjust their strategies to follow.