Top 8 predictions that will define medicine in 2021

By Alistair Gardiner
Published December 22, 2020

Key Takeaways

The coronavirus pandemic has been a game-changer for healthcare, presenting sudden and ongoing challenges for doctors and the industry at large. But, it’s also offered opportunities for growth in several areas. In December, market research firm Frost & Sullivan hosted a webinar, “Global Healthcare Predictions 2021,” covering the COVID vaccine, artificial intelligence, and everything in between.

Here are the top healthcare predictions for 2021, according to Frost & Sullivan.

1. Manufacturing market projected to grow

When it comes to medical manufacturing, 2020 was a mixed year, mostly due to COVID. Some sectors, like medical device equipment and medical imaging equipment, saw big dips, while other sectors saw moderate growth. Overall, the total original equipment manufacturer (OEM) healthcare market grew by just 1.8% in 2020.

According to Frost & Sullivan, that will change next year. The firm predicts that the OEM market will grow by 3.9%-5.2% to a total value of just over $2 trillion. Analysts also anticipate growth in all sectors as we start to get a handle on the pandemic and begin a return to “normalcy.” TBoth the medical device and medical imaging equipment sectors are expected to recover somewhat. And the pharmaceutical sector, which grew by 3.1% in 2020, is anticipated to grow by 3.8%-4.5% in 2021, primarily due to the COVID vaccine and therapeutics. 

2. Mass vaccination will arrive, but it may take a while

COVID vaccines have been all over the news recently as the United States starts its rollout. While that inspires hope in many, Frost & Sullivan has been conservative in its predictions about mass immunization.

The firm predicts that 4.12 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses will be delivered globally to immunize three priority groups in 2021. These groups are healthcare workers, adults over 65 years of age, and adults with comorbidities. Analysts concluded that immunization of the general public by the end of 2021 seems unrealistic. (Note: As of this writing, the coronavirus vaccine is now being dispensed nationwide, mostly to healthcare workers, but the debate continues on who should receive the vaccine first. On December 20, a CDC panel voted to recommend that people 75 and older be next to receive the vaccine, along with emergency responders, teachers, grocery store employees, and other “frontline” workers. Even if the CDC formally approves the recommendation, however, it is nonbinding, leaving it up to each state to serve the needs of its own population.) 

According to Frost & Sullivan, collaboration—particularly with regard to supply chains and local manufacturing capabilities—will be key to mobilizing an effective vaccination campaign. Physicians can help by working to build confidence in the vaccine among the public. The vaccine’s rapid development has led to varying degrees of apprehension about its safety, so communication with the general public will be critical.

3. The rise of virtual care

One obvious result of the pandemic is the rise of telehealth across the globe, as physicians adapted their practice to the new realities of social distancing and self-isolation. Frost & Sullivan anticipates virtual care to become a new normal and predicts that 35% of all patient interactions will go virtual across the world.  

Physicians and clinics will move away from being the automatic first point of contact and pressure is now mounting on providers to expand their digital services. This presents a new challenge: Face-to-face conversation is typically considered to be vital in acquiring and retaining patients, and poor digital experiences have led to higher rates of patient dropout, according to the research firm.

As such, providers will need to focus on bolstering their digital services, while ensuring that the patient remains at the center of this development. This means focusing on intuitive user interfaces and a quality user experience.

4. Hospitals will shift budgets toward digital services

While certain healthcare sectors have seen growth this year, the pandemic has led to significant losses for hospitals, totaling roughly $323 billion. This is partially due to the cancellation or postponement of elective procedures and outpatient clinic visits. Therefore, hospitals will be taking a long hard look at their budgets moving forward in 2021.

Frost & Sullivan predicts that up to 75% of hospitals’ capital equipment budgets will be diverted into digital transformation efforts. As mentioned above, virtual patient interaction is anticipated to become more commonplace, so hospitals will likely begin funneling money into building up their digital services. 

A demand for equipment will still exist—in fact, there is a current backlog that will need to be met due to the pandemic. As such, other pricing models may become more viable, like leasing or volume commitment based models. Frost & Sullivan advises that focus should shift to flexible pricing models, which can be customized to patient needs.

5. Hospital margins will improve

After hospital margins took a hit in 2020, Frost & Sullivan predicts that US hospital margins will improve between 1%-5%, beginning in the second quarter of 2021.  

As a result of the pandemic, many hospitals introduced severe cost-cutting measures this year and, according to Frost & Sullivan, this will likely continue into 2021. Hospitals will likely reduce nursing contracts and transition more surgical procedures to outpatient surgical centers. On top of this, additional revenue may eventually be brought in through telemedicine reimbursements, with near-real-time reimbursement becoming more feasible.

6. A new standard for cancer testing

It’s not all bad news. If you’re sick of hearing about the pandemic, here’s a non-COVID-related prediction from Frost & Sullivan: By the end of 2021, multi-gene panel and next-generation sequencing (NGS) tests will emerge as a new standard in diagnostics for colorectal, prostate, and non-small cell lung cancer treatment pathways.

These tests have been rapidly adopted in the United States and Japan for a number of reasons. They’re far less invasive compared with tests like liquid biopsy or mapping biomarkers of genomic alterations. They also have favorable reimbursement policies. According to Frost & Sullivan, the market for multi-panel and NGS tests is anticipated to be valued at $1.7 billion by the end of 2021.

7. Imaging will see $2 billion influx

While there was a financial downturn in the imaging sector in 2020 (again, due to the pandemic) Frost & Sullivan predicts a surge in demand in 2021. In fact, the firm anticipates that repeat or multiple imaging tests will have to be reduced in order to address the surge predicted for 2021.

In financial terms, Frost & Sullivan predicts that imaging IT will see a wave of investments worth $2 billion, particularly in areas like enterprise IT, imaging workflow efficiency, interoperability,   and analytics, which are becoming more critical. The firm is also expecting that 2021 will be the year that imaging IT and artificial intelligence will come together.

8. More focus on mental health

Finally, after a long year of pandemic-induced isolation and anxiety, it’s likely that the public will spend the next year prioritizing mental, physical and, for some, spiritual health.  As such, Frost & Sullivan predicts new-age wellness trends and alternative healing methods will become more mainstream. Additionally, the firm posited that sleep care will become the new pillar of self-care, with a good night’s rest becoming a priority.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter