Health Tech Predictions 2021: how the experts see the year ahead

Most of us will be keen to bid goodbye to 2020 and welcome the New Year with open arms. But one major plus point is that, largely due to the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen huge strides in the adoption and implementation of technology within healthcare settings.

But what will the next 12 months bring for the sector, in such a changed world? And how will it evolve? Suddenly the landscape seems wide open. To try and find some answers, we sent out an open request to health and technology experts across the sector, asking for your health tech predictions 2021 – and we received a huge response.

Below is a curated selection of the comments, providing a potential glimpse into the near future. Thanks to all the contributors, we hope you enjoy reading the thoughts of some of those at the forefront of the health tech industry.

Bryn Sage, Chief Executive, Inhealthcare

Twitter: @InhealthcareUK @brynsage

This will be the year that digital healthcare becomes the norm. In 2021, digital healthcare will finally be known as just healthcare, like online banking is now just banking.

For people living with long or short-term conditions, remote monitoring will be the standard. By the end of the year, more than 20m people across the North East, the South Coast, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have access to our services developed in partnership with NHS clinicians.

Professor Ben Wright, Associate Medical Director for Clinical Information, East London NHS Foundation Trust and Visiting Professor NOVA Medical School

In terms of the future, because of the sustained contextual pressures, my prediction is that health systems will maintain a large proportion of the changes instituted over the last year.

Where consultations do not require a physical interaction — which excludes the majority of acute care provision ­— these will move to largely virtual settings with 70% of consultations continuing to be delivered virtually, 10% face-to-face and 20% through digital pods where health systems or local communities make digital assets available in the local environment of patients, within walking distance, and thereby enable them to engage digitally with remote healthcare provider.

Martin Bell, Director, The Martin Bell Partnership

Twitter: @MartinBell1966

In a complete statement of the obvious, digital technologies usage in the delivery of health and care will continue to grow in 2021.

This will especially be the case [this] year, as despite the arrival of vaccines it will be a long programme to get them rolled out, and also of course to see how effective they are in terms of preventing infection, transmission, how long they last for etc.

However, even the rollout means that the first half of 2021 may look much like the second half of 2020. I think it will be the second half of 2021 before we get back to some true normality. For health and care digital transformation to continue its growth, there needs to be continued funding [and] more money.

Finally, I hope by the end of 2021 to never hear the phrase “the new normal” again, I don’t want my video meeting platform to smell of coffee (see the Zoom CEO) – I want to meet people in real life, shake their hand, hug them, air kiss them, share coffee, wine, beer, diet coke – and network properly at real life events.

Graeme Cox, CEO & Co-Founder emteq Labs

Twitter: @emteqlabs

The true impact of COVID-19 on mental health is, as yet, unknown, but already the emerging evidence is alarming. Even prior to the pandemic the supply of mental health services had, arguably, exceeded demand and we know that the pandemic has had huge consequences on the size of waiting lists across the NHS.

It is becoming widely accepted that the use of talking therapies can be a better approach than medication for many mental health conditions, but in reality, the 1:1 approach means that there simply are not enough therapy hours available to scale to the volume required.

The use of VR allows for a new model of care. By enabling patients to undertake elements of the therapy process asynchronously, therapy appointments can be reduced in volume as we address the backlog caused by COVID-19.

The power of VR to create high-fidelity, emotional and empathic connections for the user provides enormous opportunity for the treatment of mental health conditions, both now and in the future.

Dr Elina Naydenova, CEO and co-founder, Feebris

Twitter: @feebris

I believe that, in the coming year, we will continue to see significant advances in the development and use of AI in healthcare, particularly in hospital settings where advanced algorithms have been increasingly augmenting clinical decision-making to aid the delivery of precision medicine.

The development of similar technology for community or primary care settings, however, is lagging behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the limitations of a centralised model of care and the opportunity to effectively manage disease detection and triage in the community. With an ageing population, the need for greater resource and capacity in elderly care will continue to rise and, consequently, health tech’s potential for impact in the care sector is enormous.

To springboard to the next level, AI-innovators must explore and develop new functionalities that enable quality control of data capture in the community, streamlined referral channels and provide remote decision-support for integrated decision-making for a multi-disciplinary health and social care team.

Together we must create solutions, technologies and services that can be agile and adapt to the capability and capacity needs of our already overstretched health and social care services, at scale.

Dr Afzal Chaudhry, Director of Digital, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Twitter: @my_eHospital @CUH_NHS @AfzalChaud

For 2021 we are focused on providing more personalised care to our patients through near-patient real-time or near real-time monitoring and enhancing our analytics capabilities and interoperability.

Near-patient real-time or near real-time monitoring will provide the capability to monitor patients at home, allowing for the early detection of deterioration necessitating early clinical review, or the confirmation that the patient remains stable so potentially delaying the need for routine clinical review. This will ultimately build up an understanding of what is ‘normal’ for that individual patient, supporting a move towards more personalised care.

Advancing analytics will allow expansion of curated data streams to support data driven analysis and insights into clinical and operational outcomes, providing / defining opportunities for improvement and transformation in the ongoing pursuit of ever-increasing high-quality care delivery. The same data that supports clinical workflows, audit and service evaluations should also – with appropriate governance – support secondary uses including research.

From an interoperability perspective, just as our patients are benefitting from greater clinical visibility of relevant information at the point of care within our hospitals, so all patients should benefit from the same in all settings wherever possible.

Liz Ashall-Payne, Founding CEO of ORCHA


A key focus for 2021 and beyond will be embedding digital healthcare for the long term – making sure the progress made this year does not roll back.

An absolutely key part of the big picture is to ensure the workforce is ready for digital. Our best available data estimates there are between 41,000 and 53,000 informaticians in the NHS – and their roles could be widely variable. Management consultants McKinsey estimate we need a 75% increase in advanced and specialist digital skills by 2030. As far as health and care are concerned, it’s as vital for someone on an IT help desk to be highly skilled, as for a surgeon operating on a patient.

We recognise there’s low awareness of how digital health can help – what’s needed is mandatory training for front-line staff. Digital shouldn’t be bolted on to the curriculum, it should be embedded throughout. A way to start would be for at least one digital health module to be part of every pre-qualification curriculum.

Our prediction is that by 2030 apps will have reached a mainstream position sitting alongside traditional support services, having established a solid evidence of reducing healthcare costs, improving the efficiency of care delivery and enabling greater access to high-quality care via telemedicine. Aside from the challenges we face embedding digital health with the workforce, the barriers we face – and which we will be tackling – are the governance and risk management, trust and safety issues and how to evaluate impact effectively and convincingly.

We are at a pivotal point in time. The past year has seen digital health take a huge leap forward, now is the time to catch up, build systems based on trust and inspire developers to create genius products to help solve our world’s health challenges.

Jenny Thomas, Programme Director, DigitalHealth.London

Twitter: @ThomasJennyJ

We at DigitalHealth.London predict that 2021 will demand effective evidence generation for digital health.

Communicating learnings, case studies, how-to guides, and demonstrating value and impact of digital health implementation will become ever more important as NHS organisations and social care providers look to ensure, having gone digital, staying digital is done in the right way with the right products for the long term.

David Hancock, Healthcare Executive Adviser, InterSystems

Twitter: @DavidHancock6

I think there will be far greater focus on usability and convenience to make the usage of this technology far easier and more predictable; one-click access will dramatically lower barriers to adoption. I hope this becomes a central focus in health and care as it becomes more ‘consumer-oriented’ in its use of technology and that this is targeted at both patients and staff.

Yossi Cohen, Physician Executive, InterSystems

In the second round of the AI awards, due to be concluded in early 2021, I believe that we will see more solutions that use multiple and different data types to train their models. These richer datasets are likely to improve the accuracy of AI solutions even more. As such, interoperability, the silver platter of data, will become the strongest ally of AI in healthcare over the next few years. 

Mike Sanders, CEO, Intouch with Health

Twitter: @Intouchflow

Integration will become a key focus for the NHS in 2021, as Trusts look to integrate technology deployed at pace in response to the pandemic, with their existing digital infrastructure in order to achieve a smarter, more efficient way of working that benefits patients and staff alike.

A plethora of disparate technology will go, replaced by a focus on the importance of a more joined-up technological infrastructure at Trust level but, more significantly, across geographical regions at ICS level.

This will help avoid digital solutions being deployed in silo, instead helping bring together local organisations in a pragmatic and practical way to deliver the ‘triple integration’ of primary and specialist care, physical and mental health services, and health with social care.

The real prize is to achieve a fully integrated system to manage all the aforementioned services using a single connecting platform to deliver and manage an end-to-end, blended, patient journey in hospital, at home or out in the community.

Tom Scott, Sales Director, Alcidion

Twitter: @alcidion

Healthcare organisations have seen dramatic digital adoption and transformation in a very short period during 2020. That will continue into 2021 as we enter one of the largest vaccination programmes ever seen.

The rate of digital transformation over the past year has been significant across the NHS, but there is much more to do. Key lessons from the technical challenges that organisations have faced should be reviewed locally and nationally to capitalise on the immense amount of hard work seen from the NHS, central bodies, and suppliers.

The challenges of the pandemic continued to bring the importance of data quality into sharp focus. I suspect that healthcare organisations will put more emphasis on solutions that introduce quality data layers across the healthcare spectrum in 2021.

This approach also supports an ‘ecosystem’ model, allowing organisations to introduce innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence and clinical decision support over their existing systems, while driving new models of care where patient-generated and wearables data is incorporated.

An imperative for digital technology will be to reduce the cognitive burden on clinicians. Automation of tasks and pathway creation will be critical to alleviate pressure for frontline staff.

The NHS will look for effective ways to continue technological transformation, procure clinically engaged applications and leapfrog digital maturity to deliver enhanced ways of working economically. This will mean organisations avoiding expensive drawn-out ‘rip and replace’ programmes, in favour of agile digital approaches that complement existing technologies and deliver results at pace.

Richard Jones, Chief Strategy Officer, C2-Ai

Twitter: @DrRAD

We are facing a radical change to the way we care for patients, and two things in particular will have to be addressed. The first is that there will be an increasing shift of moving care away from hospitals to community or at-home scenarios, where possible. There are companies in the UK and US that are pioneering this model, and this is partly because healthcare is approaching 20 per cent of GDP (in the US), with waste amounting to approximately 25 per cent of total healthcare spending at $750 billion per year.

Although the percentages are not quite as high in Europe, the same problem does exist and so the second issue is that we will need to tackle morbidity, clinical variation and harm more assiduously. These have been hard to measure in a significant way in the past but must now be addressed to improve health system efficiency as we try to balance the books after the pandemic.

Alan Lowe, CEO, Visionable

Twitter: @alanlowe79

Regionalised technology adoption, digital pathways and the early beginnings of a 5G revolution in healthcare are just some things to look out for in 2021.

As more decision-making starts to transition to integrated care systems, we will see an amalgamation of technology across individual regions. This will also result in fewer siloed solutions and a greater consideration for patient pathway scenarios when applying technology.

The emergence of ecosystem working amongst suppliers will also be key to embedding the right technologies to address different aspects of those pathways. The last year has seen rapid digital adoption in response to COVID-19.

2021 will see thinking progress from urgently plugging gaps to using digital as part of system design.

For example, a video consultation can provide a mechanism for a patient to speak to a clinician – but does an effective pathway mean augmenting that video with mobile MRI scanners, approved blood pressure cuffs, Bluetooth scales, and other appropriate devices?

As healthcare organisations strategise, the very early stages of a 5G revolution in healthcare will begin to take place. Hospitals and healthcare systems will start to discover clinically led use cases as they dip their toes into the early planning stages for 5G infrastructure in preparation for future architecture.

More immediately, 5G will enable new things to happen in location-based environments. But with connected ambulances and other connected environments already firmly on the agendas of NHS organisations we are engaging, some of the possibilities for the future will start to be thought up in the next 12 months. In the coming years mobile 5G could bring about as much, or even more change than the introduction of the smartphone. 2021 will be the year it all started.

Jane Rendall, Managing Director, Sectra UK and Ireland

Twitter: @MD_Sectra

If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that responsiveness is key. With that in mind, a focus on people will be fundamental as we move into 2021.

Businesses in healthcare will widely be reviewing how we can continue to work effectively, how we can achieve a low carbon footprint, how we can support customers, and how we can ensure wellbeing for our employees.

If the future is going to be a rollercoaster ride, we need to invest in a talent pool of people that have high emotional intelligence and adaptability to cope with anything that is going to be thrown at us.

As a leader in a company working in digital health, I count myself lucky to have good people – a team I’m proud of and who have responded swiftly to changing customer needs.

Investing in those people, in education and training, and in continuing to develop our workforce, will be the basis of preparedness and agility needed for the future. People are the cornerstone to being ready for what might come up.

This is more than being prepared for waves of COVID-19, or even other pandemics. A year or so ago we wouldn’t have been talking to every single customer about adopting cloud – whether that’s public, private or a hybrid approach. Now we are. We are also now having to adapt to new requirements – like ensuring cyber security for remote workers.

We need people to focus on the next thing coming up and give them the headroom to intellectualise how our organisation works. They need to be able think about the future, not always thinking about delivering in the present.

Adrian Smith, Head of Digital Transformation, NHS Arden & GEM CSU

Twitter: @ardengem

As healthcare providers continue to look for ways to minimise potential exposure to COVID-19 in service delivery, we will see the further acceleration of remote monitoring in all its forms. Video consultations in primary care will be extended into vital sign monitoring and real-time remote diagnosis. We will also begin to see some of the monitoring technologies tested in care homes appear in private homes for use by families and individuals.

Health monitoring for citizens, not just patients, will continue to support the preventative agenda while AI – in support of some of these initiatives – will begin to look mainstream.

​Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will continue to remain a challenge for the year ahead. On the one hand fuelling the motivation for digital change and on the other hand consuming available resources.

While patients will increasingly embrace and accept change, digital inclusion needs to be high on our agenda to avoid exacerbating health inequalities. We also need to continue to engage with all sectors of the clinical world to reduce barriers to change and successfully scale pilots.

We believe connectivity is key to digital transformation and in 2021 we will continue to work with 5G test beds and mobile operators to shape new models of connectivity-enabled care including remote monitoring, at-home diagnostics and connected ambulances.

Ed Rayner, CEO for UK and Europe, BLOK BioScience

With the National Cyber Security Centre reporting more than 51,000 indicators of compromise of NHS IP addresses this year and healthcare data breaches predicted to triple in 2021(according to a report by Black Book Market Research), it looks like next year will be the year when we move away from vulnerable centralised data systems to a more secure patient-focused data model.

Mass testing and a rapid vaccine roll-out will continue to generate a huge amount of data that needs to be held safely while being usable for the public in order to allow free movement. Platforms based on Self Sovereign Identification give patients private and secure control of their data and allow them to choose who sees it and how it is used. That chimes with the NHS’s goal of delivering person-centred care, while also protecting healthcare organisations in their responsibility of ensuring that their patient data is safe against the ever-evolving methods used by hackers.

This approach to digital identity, if accepted, will also allow society to open up to allow more freedom of movement as people will be able to use the technology to prove that they are COVID-19 safe, whether that is shown via a vaccination or test record or some other criteria.

The technology could also use incentives to encourage users to opt-in to sharing their anonymised data with researchers, so that we can quickly identify geographic outbreaks, new symptoms of different strands of disease or potential vaccine side-effects, in the battle against COVID-19 and any future dangerous infections.

The technology is already here, and I think 2021 will be the year that it becomes universally accepted. The benefits to health, business and human rights are just too significant to ignore.

John Payne, Physician Executive, InterSystems

Safety is a core part of many industries now from construction to Formula 1, from aviation to medications. I believe that clinical safety of healthcare information systems will be an increasing priority for health tech vendors and care providers alike.

Recently, IT solutions used in healthcare have become more scrutinised in terms of safety. As a result, I think there will be a growing trend to manage risk more proactively, particularly to manage clinical risk and ultimately patient safety.

Gary Mordue, Product Manager, Silverlink Software

It is well understood and accepted that, like in many other industries, data analytics and AI have the potential to revolutionise the delivery of the health and care space, helping to combat issues such as staff shortages by making more effective use of their existing resource, whilst minimising the risk of error by supporting staff in operations and decision-making. So, in 2021, I’d like to think we’ll see expanded use of these technologies in the NHS.

With that in mind, as a company, our priorities continue to centre around working with suppliers, such as Zesty and we are currently in discussions with several NHS trusts who are looking into ways they can use AI to handle interactions with booking appointments.

As we have seen before, this will no doubt prompt discussions around data confidentiality and information sharing, which is an issue that needs to be tackled head-on in order to highlight how protocols already exist to address these concerns, such as the Caldicott Guardian data standards, General Data Protection Regulation, Data Protection Act and NHS Care Record Guarantee. Therefore, we need to ensure that there is a focus on effectively communicating this to staff and patients to give them the confidence to embrace and use these technologies

Dr Gareth Parkes, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Barts Health NHS Trust and Co-founder of Ampersand Health and the My IBD Care app

Despite the growing trend towards a patient-centred approach, the way outpatient care is provided – usually on a three to six-month routine basis – has remained largely the same since the inception of the NHS in 1948. As a consequence, patients do not get to clinicians when they need them the most and, due to COVID-19, there are now over 4.4 million people waiting for NHS treatment. New care models have to emerge. Hopefully, health tech efficiencies like ours will help the NHS recover.

Having seen, first-hand, the positive impact of this 360, asynchronous approach to managing long-term inflammatory conditions I hope in the coming year we will see more areas of healthcare embracing new technology to advocate and support patient self-management to empower the patients and give them more autonomy over their own treatment. This is a sustainable approach to managing long-term health conditions and reduces the need for outpatient appointments.

Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director, Healthcare Communications

While we are going to see a continued surge in the use of video consultations generally, in 2021, I think a greater emphasis needs to be placed on finding feature-rich solutions that better replicate the face-to-face experience.

Further to this, I think we will see a behaviour change resulting in a significant rise in the number of patients who want to manage their own care, particularly those living with long term conditions. The problem, however, is that patient portals and personal health records are seen as the only platform where patients can manage care, and that most of the solutions on the market lack the automation and functionality needed to provide intuitive patient-centred pathway orchestration.

So, the challenge for us is to buck this trend, to make sure that whichever pathway a patient is on, they have everything they need to achieve the same, if not better, outcomes in terms of their healthcare when utilising digital tools.

Finally, in 2021, Patient Initiated Follow Ups (PIFU) will be essential to tackling appointment backlogs, but this experience must be better for the patient too. For us, enabling patients to activate their appointment across multiple channels, based on preference, will be key to this.

David Newell, Managing Partner, Gemserv Health

Twitter: @GemservHealth

COVID-19 will inevitably continue to dominate the agenda in the healthcare sector in 2021, but acceleration of digital transformation, faster development of drugs and a growing focus on reducing carbon footprint ahead of [UN Climate Change Conference] COP26 will also be key issues.

Digital transformation has seen tasks expected to take months or even years being completed in a matter of days and weeks. Greater use of digital infrastructure, such for as remote GP consultations, will gather even further pace during 2021. But security and information governance need to be addressed around technology that was rapidly deployed and skipped some of the normal rules during the emergency. Ensuring that patients’ data is secure will be a key factor as further services are rolled out.

One of the few positives during the past year has been the speed with which vaccine candidates have been developed and put into clinical trials. Companies, universities, and regulators have worked together like never before. The challenge for 2021 is to maintain that momentum to develop vaccines and treatments for many other diseases.

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow will increase the focus on efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the health service. The acceleration of digital transformation will play an important role in this, with 30% cut to face-to-face GP appointments alone estimated to save 300 million journeys each year. As well as the climate benefits, reducing emissions will have a positive effect on people’s health too.

Dealing with the logistical challenges posed by the need to vaccinate tens of millions of people, on top of treating Covid-19 patients will take up a huge amount of health and care resources. The health service also needs to tackle the backlog of scans, diagnoses, appointments, and operations that have been building up over the past nine months.

While vaccine progress means there is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, the recent news of a virulent new strain has highlighted how long that tunnel could be. Rules around bubbles, social distancing and face coverings will be around for some time to come.

In an inter-connected world, we also need to look at the global perspective. Studies have shown just how quickly new strains of the virus were brought into the UK after people started returning from their brief summer respite.

Liam King, Commercial and customer experience Director, Healthcare Gateway

Twitter: @liamtheking

In 2021 we look forward to some exciting upcoming projects, facilitating the sharing of patient data between a plethora of clinical system settings, including social, community, and mental health.

Our overarching strategy remains to support NHS directives. In 2019, the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) found critical deficiencies in the record-keeping systems used by the NHS Trusts. In response, NHS X announced its aims to implement shared medical records by next year, aligning with the interoperability aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan & Local Health and Care Record programme.

Furthermore, we would expect and hope to see a review of data sharing governance, having seen how the control of patient information (COPI) notices issued during the pandemic optimised and expedited sharing of data to save patient lives. This would make it easier to provide data to more effectively support patient care.

Additionally, as the nation shifts towards normality post COVID-19 there will inevitably be increased strain upon the NHS, which is critical for us to predict and offer support. The backlogs of postponed treatments and care, and prevalence of undiagnosed conditions will increase the pressure on the NHS and treasury departments, and further to this, the scale of disruption is likely to have influenced care and exacerbated resources within more healthcare settings than we currently realise.

Finally, due to Brexit we can predict that changes to GDPR may take place, however, we are closely monitoring this, and we do not currently store any data outside of the European Union, so this should present little to no issue for us.

Gareth Dellenty, Managing Partner, Strategy & Innovation Expert, The Clarity Practice

It goes without saying that there are many challenges lying ahead for our NHS, however, this will not stifle the drive for innovation and only strengthens the need for it.

I believe that, in line with many other industries, the NHS will begin to consider distributed records architectures as a serious alternative to the highly centralised systems in place today. Whilst it is unlikely that we will move away entirely from centralised data pools, the technology for record ownership and transactions to take place closer to the patient is beginning to mature, with admirable implementations of blockchain and personal data hub-based solutions bearing fruit across banking, education, consumer and defence.


HTN wishes all our readers, partners and everyone in the healthcare and tech sectors all the best for 2021.

For more on how the use of technology in healthcare has been transformed this year, take a look at our 2020 learnings, featuring more reflection from leading health tech professionals.