Health tech predictions for 2022: “there will be a big focus on up-skilling healthcare workers”

As we warmly welcome in another year, we’ve gathered industry reflections on 2021, and NHS priorities for 2022. But what about health tech predictions for the next 12 months?

HTN asked the experts what they expect to happen, and what they’ll be working on, in 2022 – and we received a great response.

“We are on the path to unlock data silos, automate data pipelines and apply advanced analytics”

Jenny Chong, Non Executive Director of Medway NHS Foundation Trust, shared her predictions focusing on digital skills and literacy, stating: “A silver-lining of COVID is that we have accelerated up the technology curve. Many of us inevitably learnt data skills as we attempted to decipher mountains of data to detect patterns and logic. The combination of digital awareness, technology infrastructure and data literacy enables us to derive deeper insights from the data that we hold. The connected contextual data across the whole patient journey will augment diagnosis and treatment. We are on the path to unlock data silos, automate data pipelines and apply advanced analytics. If we can do data collaboration as a system, our patients will ultimately benefit.”

Liz Ashall-Payne, founding CEO of ORCHA, let us in on her predictions, and honed in on digitising the workforce, commenting: “There will be a big focus on up-skilling healthcare workers in 2022. Whilst social prescribers and the new roles created through the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme will likely lead the field in activating digital solutions, it’s vital that all frontline staff are familiar with these new approaches.

“Our clinical teams at ORCHA believe digital health is extremely well placed to help the NHS tackle the elective surgery backlog. The BMA estimates that, between April 2020 and October 2021, there were 4.13 million fewer elective procedures. Digital can support across a broad spectrum of the priority medical conditions, in particular ophthalmology, MSK, cardiology and dermatology.”

Richard Wyatt-Haines, Director of HCI Digital, meanwhile, turned the attention to digital adoption. He said: “The pressure on the system will be so great that getting digital solutions adopted will be tough. Somehow we all have to find a way to get tools into use in as many places as possible, and as quickly as possible, because without large and wide scale adoption of digital the health system, weaknesses will become fissures through which many patients and staff will fall. And that’s not right and not what any of us want.”

Vijay Magon of CCube Solutions, meanwhile, explained what the provider would be focusing on: “We’ve been both inspired by the mobilisation of the NHS response to this virus, as well as shocked by the impact it may have on the National Health Service, which we all cherish and work to support in the ways that we do.

“During 2022 (and beyond), we will continue to ramp up our support and delivery services for digital records which will provide practitioners [with] the ability to access patient information anywhere and support virtual clinics, and support the NHS Long Term Plan – [as] NHS England has pledged that digitally-enabled care will go ‘mainstream’ across the NHS over the next decade. Development work is in progress to extract and use contextual information from the huge volumes of unstructured content held in our systems, to help clinicians identify better treatment options. We will also be releasing new patient-facing software designed to improve a patient’s engagement in the delivery of their care, including Patient Initiated Follow Up (PIFU).”

“2022 will see the realisation of integrated care systems”

The topic of integrated care systems (ICSs) was also touched upon, with Brian Painting, UKCloud Client Director, considering the security implications and the potential for social care.

“2022 will see the realisation of integrated care systems and, with that, the certain need for organisations to derive real value from the data in their systems,” said Brian. “We’ve spent years talking about unified architectures. With the standards, requirements and governance in place, the time is now for delivery. Coherent data management tooling across local economies will prove pivotal, especially with non-health systems from the third sector synthesise information into public health tools.

“This will likely have a knock on effect on security – and the security of health data is everyone’s concern. As we start to bring in new ways of working, there is a widening of the threat landscape and increase in risk. We know health data is of value to cyber criminals and as the proliferation of consumer devices and applications grows, so too must the awareness and support of health leaders to cyber security teams.

“Another priority for 2022 is to shift the focus onto social care, and the much-neglected role technology can play in this crucial area. The remote monitoring tools that have come to the fore in acute and GP care are evidentially of value to service users in certain scenarios. There is a real opportunity for ICS to review work with care providers to provide essential digital services, as well as to start to generate insight from this growing area of the marketplace.”

Lynette Ousby, UK managing director, Alcidion, shared excitement about the potential of not only ICSs but also Electronic Patient Records (EPRs), stating: “As integrated care systems develop in 2022, more joined up orchestration between organisations and their technologies will become a priority. Changes to NHS procurement rules may also help to support innovation, integration, and collaboration in digital adoption decisions. But I’m particularly excited about new opportunities to shake up the EPR market. This direction will in part come from the health tech market, with new options presented to the NHS around cloud-based, flexible and clinically focused platforms. But it will also come from within the NHS, with initiatives like the Digital Aspirant Plus programme influencing the urgency of innovation and change.”

Alan Lowe, CEO, Visionable, added: “At Visionable, we’ve been working on a lot of exciting projects that will launch in 2022, including our Connected Healthcare Centre in partnership with Verizon, and a solution specifically for emergency services to support in easing the huge pressures they are currently experiencing. The last two years have shown why it’s important for healthcare services and tech companies to come together and find real solutions to tackle the great challenges that lie ahead. I’d like to see ICSs nail basic interconnectivity, and then look to the future to make digital transformation the bedrock of healthcare improvement.”

Richard Strong, Vice President International Services & Operations, Managing Director EMEA for Allscripts, was another commentator who highlighted ICSs. Richard said: “Technology suppliers must continue to work with clinical colleagues to ensure solutions we provide make their lives easier, and free them up to spend more time caring for patients.

“In 2022, we will see continued progress in sharing health data within ICSs, which will make a huge difference to clinicians and patients across care settings. A key focus for ICSs will be building inclusive digital strategies to support equitable care delivery for all. In Allscripts’ role as a solution provider, we’re committed to supporting regional systems to integrate and helping leaders create the right culture for technology to make a difference.”

And for Martin Bell, Director of the Martin Bell Partnership, integrated care was also top of the predictions list, as well as a number of other areas. He said: “An obvious ‘one to watch’ is what happens with a combined central IT function now under NHS England. What will be their new ‘big agenda’? Personally, I hope they tackle the fundamentals and go small on ‘new ideas’.

“The evolution of ICS’s will be another to watch – a re-arrangement, more expensive and complexity in the system – or a genuine effort to truly deliver integrated care in the various regions of England?”

Martin also added, “Oh, and social care. A total and absolute focus on fixing social care”, although he felt this may not happen. “Overall…I think for health and care, 2022 will be another tough year,” he concluded.

“Digital health technology will be the driving force for personalising care in 2022″

Tom Whicher, Chief Executive, DrDoctor, presented his predictions on personalised care for the next year, saying: “Digital health technology will be the driving force for personalising care in 2022. We’ll see a marked change in the way we manage how patients attend and book appointments including patient-initiated follow-ups (PIFU) to reduce non-attendance. There will be a greater need for everything to be done through EPRs which will give greater convenience and a better patient experience. 

“Home-based and remote care will be a hot topic and tools like electronic patient communication platforms and remote assessments will be fundamental to this. We’ll see a need for tech that streamlines cumbersome processes to meet people where they are and help treat patients better and faster, while reducing the strain on NHS resources.”

“Moving into 2022, we’ll focus on backlog management, deploying at scale our appointment scheduling platform and improving our remote monitoring platform,” said, Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director, Healthcare Communications. “We’ll also be developing our Patient Initiated Follow Up technology to include voice alongside digital options. Telehealth has been deployed at scale during the pandemic and will become a more permanent fixture in 2022. However, to improve effectiveness and acceptance, I expect to see more formalised research and training to support the delivery of best practices. This is something our transformation team are focusing on. As a CISCO company, we’ll also be driving innovation in support of the digital hospital agenda.”

Mark England, Chief Executive of HN, said: “In 2022 predicting rising risk in population segments will become much more embedded and critical to service recovery from the pandemic. Using AI we can now predict eight of 10 emergency admissions, which means we can focus resource on the right patients. With the strain the NHS is under it’ll be even more important to consider innovative ways of providing proactive care in people’s homes. We’re going to see a shift to more personalised care, especially for those living with multiple long-term health conditions. Through personalised support, we will begin to see patients themselves as part of the solution to the pressure on services.”

Felix Williams, Chief Technology Officer, Ethical Healthcare Consulting, also covered this area, explaining,“In 2022 we expect the out of hospital trend to continue. The focus will continue to be on data sharing of both images and reports, from CDC to acute but also pan and inter-network. We anticipate a general move to image-sharing standards and away from supplier-proprietary mechanisms and to bust pandemic backlogs, a renewed focus on centralised reporting across networks/consortiums. 

“The emergence of the ICSs as constituted bodies may also see them operating services in support of the imaging networks: regional patient indices, cloud data repositories, centralised messaging capabilities. Use of AI in support of diagnostics will continue to grow, enabled by the centralisation of imaging data.”

While, for Luke Percy, Public Sector Account Director, ITGL, the emphasis was on building smart hospitals.

“If we take anything positive from the last couple of years, then for me it’s the heightened focus on using good value technology to provide tangible clinical and patient benefits,” Luke said.

“Going into 2022, we expect to see the continued evolution of the smart hospital. These optimised care settings will allow for new clinical processes and efficient care, taking advantage of developments in IoT and connected medical devices, while also tying in smart facilities and asset management to enable temperature or lighting control, alongside asset management and patient experience solutions such as way-finding. All this will be enabled by the underlying secure digital networking infrastructure.

“While it might sound daunting, once hospitals put in the right networking foundations it’s much more manageable to then build in smart hospital features as they are needed – and crucially, to get the most return on investment in terms of patient safety, experience, and clinical efficiency.”

“The move to the cloud [is] set to become an even greater enabler in 2022”

A move towards more cloud technology was also a popular prediction from our commentators. Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Skyflow, shared:  “The massive amount of capital flowing to health tech startups will only increase, which will drive the pace of innovation in 2022. But with dozens of countries around the globe passing data privacy and data residency laws, building meaningful technology will be constrained by the challenges of properly managing health and personal information. Look to the cloud platform and infrastructure builders to solve these problems, and for a few of these to emerge from 2022 as clear leaders. The healthcare market is ready for the emergence of a new cloud stack to power its transformation.”

Peter Corscadden of Hyland Healthcare, also said: “The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across the entire UK healthcare sector, with the move to the cloud set to become an even greater enabler in 2022.

“Healthcare providers are seeking greater operational flexibility, efficiency and resilience, to support the fundamental objective of improving patient outcomes. There is growing recognition that by delivering, say, content services capabilities through a secure and scalable cloud platform, institutions are in a stronger position to advance digital engagement and the overall patient experience, as well as supporting new clinical working practices. Enterprise diagnostic imaging and digital pathology are just two specialties where the cloud will continue to have a transformational impact.

“However, as with any infrastructure strategy, it’s critically important to ensure the interoperability of all applications. Also, cyber risks are becoming more prominent, which will require technology vendors to arm their clients with software that enables security, protection and accessibility to patient information.”

For Jane Rendall, Sectra’s Managing Director for the UK and Ireland, the cloud was mentioned alongside a prediction about the increasing importance of digital pathology. Jane noted: “Digital pathology will take centre stage as the pace accelerates for the modernisation of NHS diagnostics during 2022. New government funding combined with clinical need will transition digital pathology to being ubiquitous, with almost every part of the country either deploying solutions, or at least in planning and procurement stages. I’m fortunate to have seen the impact first hand from pioneers in this space, and can say with confidence that fast followers will be able to leverage learnings and proven models. Cloud too, will play an important role, helping to facilitate deployments and scalability. And this will also open doors for integrated diagnostics as more ‘ologies’ integrate into imaging records and as geographical footprints expand.”

Digital safety was another area covered by contributors, with Stuart Harrison, co-founder & CEO of ETHOS, noting: “Digital safety as a core competence for healthcare practitioners is an emerging field, with frameworks being published by the Faculty of Clinical Informatics and Health Education England. However, it can feel like a big hill to climb for busy clinicians post-pandemic. Although the NHS is leading developments in digital safety, we’d like to see more training on offer which would add value to healthcare professionals’ portfolios, audits by regulators and aid practice development.  

“In 2022, we expect to see more organisations with a registered clinician who is a Clinical Safety Officer. As we move forward with the ‘re-set of services’ post-pandemic, we need to raise awareness of mandated standards and must actively support clinicians to optimise their use of digital clinical risk management methods. Alternatively, we can invest in training clinicians as Clinical Safety Officers to improve patient digital safety across frontline services.”

While for Thomas Webb, CEO, Ethical Healthcare Consulting, a move towards open data architectures was the main expectation: “I expect to see more and more of a move towards open data architectures with an increasing number of NHS organisations exploring options in this space. This is only going to be accelerated if NHSE/I/X support these initiatives with funding this year, which I fully expect they will align with the national data strategy. Conversely, at the other end of the spectrum, I expect that investment in user-centric design and behavioural change to continue to grow, and to see the NHS catching up with other industries.”

“Health inequity is now part of mainstream conversation”

Many of our contributors also focused on patients and predictions – or perhaps hopes and expectations – for greater digital and health equality.

Dr Rachael Grimaldi, Co-Founder and CEO of CardMedic, explored this important theme, stating: “Health inequity is now part of mainstream conversation as a result of being brought into stark focus by the pandemic. In 2022, I hope that we see momentum continue across the industry for identifying innovative digital solutions to the challenges that exacerbate health inequalities. As the NHS recovers, we need to make sure we don’t go back to doing things how they’ve always been done, as the digital solutions developed and embraced by clinicians and patients during the last 12 months will have a huge part to play in a future sustainable care system for all.”

Sheena Pirbhai, CEO and Founder at Stress Point Health, and creator of SPHERE, similarly focused on the impact for mental health. Sheena said: “The COVID pandemic has highlighted how crucial it is to drive efficiencies and free up resources to help the ever-growing number of patients in need. Looking at mental health care alone, NHS waiting times are increasing, leading to mental health issues deteriorating and putting more pressure on GPs and social services. Meanwhile, front-line key workers in the NHS are impacted by the pandemic and are reporting symptoms of PTSD.

“Hopefully we will see an acceleration and continued transformation of healthcare services towards digital and virtual services. They have the potential to democratise access to effective and affordable treatment anywhere, anytime – breaking the next frontier of patient care, to offer patients the support they need, when they need it, delivering the right service, at the right time.”

“The vigorous national debate we have witnessed during the pandemic about the future delivery of primary care will continue in 2022,” predicted Paul Bensley, Chief Executive of X-on. “Patient expectations about the care they can expect from their GP practice are set high, but with the shortfall in GP numbers, and the changing balance between primary and secondary care given the move to population health management, technology is going to play an even more important role in driving delivery change. Technology – and cloud supported communications such as provided by X-on – will develop to better signpost and manage new pathways for patients to get care and support.”

Moving back towards topics such as co-production and patient safety, Ruby Bhatti OBE, a public contributor who supports lay views at NIHR, NHS England and at various universities, said: “Health tech will become more resilient. The trust relationship between patient and carers and the digital world will become stronger, as there is better co- production and collaboration between professionals and patient and carers. 

“Using technology, we will be able to begin to have a greater impact on the journey for patient-centred care and shared decisions between professionals and patient/carers to take place virtually, where we are further empowered and feel comfortable.

“The cutting-edge technology, which is developing minute by minute, will enhance quality of care [and] patient safety. I predict we will produce the best innovations through research, which will improve lives and give patients a real opportunity to live longer and [have] a better quality of life.”

Concluding our contributions, and our health tech predictions for 2022, was Jenny Camaradou, EUPATI Patient Expert, Knowledge Exchange Fellow and Healthtech bid writer.

Jenny stated: “As a patient expert and lay member on the NIHR AI AWARD panel, I expect 2022 to bring more opportunities for the adoption of AI and blockchain healthcare solutions that can help to increase the speed of innovation ultimately benefitting the whole healthcare ecosystem of patients, manufacturers and policy makers.

“I would like to see patient preferences better feed into providing recommendations on enhanced stratification cohort designs, data collection, quality, traceability and management activity and am looking forward to the publication of large report that I have been involved with a range of stakeholders on public patient attitudes to AI. I will continue to provide patient insight into translational research and RCTs in personalised medicine through a range of different activities and would particularly welcome collaborating with SMEs that wish to engage end-users, patients and citizens in different environments and contexts.”

HTN would once again like to say a huge thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts and predictions with us across our whole range of festive features. We wish all of our contributors and readers a fantastic 2022!