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Healthcare and Life Sciences Digital Trends for 2021

Alexa Cushman
December 16, 2020

For healthcare and life sciences organizations, 2020 began like many other years. They looked to the year ahead and focused on how to best serve their patients, members, and other constituents through their latest innovation. As we now know, nothing about 2020 was ordinary, especially for leaders within these industries. Organizations put most "nice to have" projects on hold in order to prioritize delivering immediate triage care, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and accelerating the research and development of a vaccine.

We know COVID-19 will shape much of these organizations' initiatives in 2021, including preparedness for future pandemics, and that technology will play a critical role. So here's a look at how digital innovation will influence the healthcare and life sciences industry in the year ahead.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics for Elective Medical Procedures

As COVID-19 spread across the globe in 2020, many healthcare organizations paused elective procedures and took an all-hands-on-deck approach to emergency triage medicine and infectious disease care. Yet many of these "elective" procedures truly affected patients' and members' physical and mental wellness, potentially impacting long-term outcomes and placing further strain on healthcare costs.

This will increase pressure on providers to perform elective procedures in 2021, and as a result, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will have a larger presence in the coming year. Surgeons now have increased opportunities to use AI and connected robotics tools to perform procedures more accurately and efficiently and to ultimately provide better and more rapid patient results. AI and robotics technology can also help providers determine the best course of treatments for their patients.1

Logistics, Supply Chain, and Connected Data for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Perhaps the biggest news of 2021, for any industry, will be the approval and distribution of various COVID-19 vaccines. We've seen several pharmaceutical manufacturers already come forward with outstanding clinical trial results, and now we're seeing the very first cases of the vaccine being rolled out in the United States. However, the complex process of vaccine distribution, and the high stakes for public health and the world economy, is enough to make anyone's head spin.

Connected data and unified platforms will make vaccine distribution easier and more organized, and the US Department of Health and Human Services is working on such a plan right now. "Operation Warp Speed," is bringing drug manufacturers, state governments, and the federal government together to unify data into a single source and provide decision making support for vaccine distribution.2

All facets of public and private healthcare, along with pharmaceutical manufacturers, will need similarly connected, unified data in 2021 to track vaccine administration, supply and distribution logistics, including temperature-controlled couriers for proper storage and preservation to ensure vaccine effectiveness.

Case Management for Slowing Virus Spread

As the pandemic continues to evolve in 2021, case management will still play a key role in tracking COVID-19 exposures and connecting data. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been encouraging all organizations to incorporate case management into the digital contact tracing tools used to track exposure and exposure time windows.3

Case management tools like Appian Workforce Safety will play a key role in helping healthcare organizations substantially slow the spread of COVID-19 in 2021 and will be vital for tracking other novel viruses that arise in the future.

Connected Care and Engagement

In the wake of the pandemic, U.S. healthcare payers will be looking to technology to further their ROI. As uncertainty mounts around the costs associated with both pandemic care and assistance with the virus' after-effects, insurers will need solutions that yield immediate benefits.4

Low-code automation delivers actionable data rapidly. Using low-code automation, healthcare payers can spot patterns, increase predictability for health treatment plans as the industry continues to shift toward value-based, connected care, and promote member engagement in preventive care models that will ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Join us on January 26th to Learn More

2020 has been a year like no other in recent history. Join Appian's Virtual Life Sciences and Healthcare User Group on January 26, 2021 to discuss lessons learned and what's ahead in 2021.

In this live virtual event, the Appian team, along with many of our customers, partners, and industry experts, will discuss how digital transformation will shape 2021. Find out what your industry colleagues are planning for the year ahead, and come away with insights and ideas for your own practice.

To sign up and learn more about the agenda, follow this link. If you have any questions prior to the event, feel free to contact me and we can set up a time to talk.

1Team Linchpin, "Trends Transforming The Life Sciences Industry Outlook in 2021," Linchpin, October 12, 2020,

2Lisa Simunaci, "Technology, Expertise Help Determine Vaccine Distribution," Defense News, November 12, 2020,

3US Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, Digital Contact Tracing Tools, May 26, 2020,

4Jahn Karsybaev, "Healthcare IT: Actionable Trends In 2021 For Digital Transformation," Forbes, Oct 29, 2020,