Kicked into overdrive by the pandemic, digital health continues to rapidly transform the state of healthcare, according to 2021 results from the CHIME Digital Health Most Wired survey. 

Patient engagement shows significant gains this year, with patients adopting digital portals, mobile apps and electronic insurance cards in ever-increasing numbers. Interoperability and price transparency also gained ground with wide adoption of digital solutions across the industry. 

The findings were published in the annual Digital Health Most Wired National Trends report by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). 

Key findings:

  • 2021 saw a gain of 19 percentage points in organizations adopting the ability to estimate patient out-of-pocket expenses, attributable to CMS’ new proposed requirements for price transparency
  • Percentages of patients using digital portals, mobile apps, real-time news/blog feeds and electronic insurance cards all grew significantly
  • Usage and adoption of telehealth continued to increase on the whole, but the growth curve stabilized from the sharper curve of 2020. Reported usage (measured by percentage of patients who used telehealth at each facility) has more than doubled since 2019
  • Population health management (PHM) activities remained steady after a boom in growth in 2020, with 2021 showing an average increase of 1-4 percentage points in the use of tools to support PHM strategies compared to an average 18 percentage point bump in 2020
  • Adoption of advanced analytics continues to spread more widely through the industry. The use of predictive analytics in clinician workflow rose by 11% in 2021 for acute care organizations
  • Adoption of opioid-use reduction technologies slowed in 2021, up by only 3% compared to the 20% gains of 2020. But over one-third of organizations surveyed now report using 10 or more interventions to reduce opioid use, and data shows a positive correlation between the number of interventions and impact on use reduction
  • Cybersecurity measures remained consistent in growth from 2020 to 2021. Organizations with a dedicated security operations center grew by 4%. The least-adopted best practice is the appointment of a designated CISO in the executive suite, as only 60% of organizations report having a security officer at that level
  • Adoption of EHR-integrated surveillance systems rose by 8% in 2021 for a total growth of 19% since 2019

“A monumental shift is occurring across the industry as more and more organizations adopt digital health strategies that transform health and care,” said CHIME President and CEO Russell P Branzell. “The survey covers multiple categories to assess how effectively healthcare organizations are advancing on their digital health journeys. This year, we see not only individual gains in categories but also cumulative gains from the past two years that reflect a digital revolution long in the making. Top performers are setting an example that is inspiring widespread change at an unprecedented pace.”

COVID-19-related technologies measured through the survey remained strong, with over 90% of acute-care organizations able to report data on vaccination and testing through their EHRs to local, state, and federal agencies. Over 86% of acute care and ambulatory organizations have adopted an enterprise-wide patient flow system, with high adoption in critical areas serving a beneficial role during the pandemic. Digital tools for contact tracing are still rare but increasingly planned for future implementation.