When coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit the United States, the landscape of healthcare delivery changed drastically. Where patients would traditionally have in-person visits with their provider, they were now using telehealth to see their physician or even therapist from the comfort of their own home.

That was the big trend of 2020. And in 2021, healthcare executives, providers, and patients alike should expect the continuing use of such digital health and telehealth platforms, along with the rise of health data and artificial intelligence (AI).

In fact, AI was leveraged in 2020 in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, identify hotspots, and distribute vaccines, Allison Langley, data science manager at Welltok, said in a recent interview with Managed Healthcare Executive®.

“There is certainly the capability for AI to help make those decisions around which population should receive vaccinations and how to schedule that,” Langley said of how the technology may be used in 2021.

Although AI may be considered a buzzword to some, the technology, when combined with data, can improve health outcomes, lower healthcare costs, and potentially reduce hospitalizations.

Health plans have access to a large goldmine of timely, medical, pharmacy, and hospital discharge data. The data come in real time and need to be made actionable.

“I believe that we’ll continue to see an evolution of accessing timely accurate data and will combine that with ways to create information in the form of targeting high-cost, high-risk people that can bend the cost curve of value-based care and the unnecessary cost of care by combining that with what a patient says,” Jason Rose, CEO of AdhereHealth, said in a recent interview with MHE.

As far as telehealth and digital health apps, Langley said there is going to be a lot of focus in 2021 on outreach and driving engagement, as such technologies start to become more normalized.

“Before, we were more or less forced to take on some of these kinds of digital mediums, I think they were intimidating to a lot of people. Now that we’ve kind of been kickstarted into this world where digital first is the expectation of a lot of people, and a broader population than might have engaged with those sorts of services in the past, I think that now that we’re all on the same page in terms of what those technologies look like, how they can be used, how they’re beneficial, I certainly think that it’s a great time to take advantage of those and really drive engagement towards those. And I think that will continue to be front and center, not just this year, but really ongoing,” Langley said.

Until COVID-19, telehealth use was not approved for payment for physicians to charge for it, Rose said. Now, patients and consumers and becoming more aware of the technology and its benefits and are using it at an increasing rate.

As 2020 comes to an end, leading way to a new year of technological advances in healthcare, expect to see a rise in telehealth capabilities and use of health data to make more informed decisions in 2021.