'If there's anything that helps healthcare technology workers stay ahead in a competitive industry, it's trendspotting — always looking for what comes next. That's the advice from Rahul Avasthy, lead of digital transformation and experience at Abbott. When he talks about what skills are essential for the next generation of health IT leaders, he emphasizes being ahead of trends. 'Many of the ways we work in IT are changing,' he said. 'So, looking out for upcoming technologies can help you navigate your career and identify your preferred path. Of course, you don't need to understand everything about everything, but it does help to know what's going on in the industry.' Fortunately, there is no shortage of trends to spot these days as healthcare IT moves at a lightning-fast pace. There are three tech innovations particularly worth setting your sights on as a prospective or current STEM employee in 2021. Avasthy and his colleagues explain: 1. Automation-Enabled Accessibility Millions of people in the U.S. depend on public accommodations available through the Americans with Disabilities Act. As noted by professional intelligence news gathering agency JD Supra, companies are increasingly learning about the liabilities associated with not extending those accommodations to websites and apps. Making pages of digital content more accessible for those with colorblindness, epilepsy and other impairments takes time. Automation can help, and it's one area where development operations teams can partner with design operations to streamline processes. For example, certain artificial intelligence (AI) tools may help support automatic image recognition to apply screen reading text or adjust text and background colors in real time — or even stop auto-playing flashy videos to support people at risk for seizures. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), many experts expect to see more proactive interest from digital content publishers as legislation regarding online accessibility continues to evolve. IT employers who demonstrate their eagerness to learn more about automation skill sets that apply to accessibility and design will have an advantage, Avasthy says. 'Accessibility is a significant initiative in the diversity movement,' he said, adding that making content more accessible is a focus he's working on at Abbott. 'It matters because it affects many people — those who are colorblind, visually impaired, people with cataracts or motion problems, older people and others. The question is how to scale it, and automation is a big opportunity for that. I think AI is the next exciting foray for making change happen in this area, and I'm excited to do my part to help.' 2. Predictive Analytics for Public Health In 2020, people across the world saw the power of numbers — and as COVID-19 rates grew, the public used those analytics to help inform everyday decisions. What many people didn't realize, however, was the predictive power of those statistics. For example, epidemiologists could foretell when the virus had reached a population by analyzing sewage. The epidemiologists were also able to predict infection rates by what was searched on Google, noted Healthline. This year, predictive analytics will continue to help inform everyday decision-making in new ways. Devin Stompanato, an associate data engineer at Abbott, sees the most potential in public health settings. 'The amount of data points we create as a population is growing, and as patterns emerge, you can imagine what that means for our ability to prevent health problems,' he said. 'The possibilities are limitless — from identifying vulnerable populations before they become vulnerable, to knowing in advance when a medical device or machine will stop working so that you can fix it preemptively without patient impact.' For those hoping to flex their skills in this area, Stompanato recommends staying adaptable and letting the data take you to unexpected conclusions. 'Every project is going to have different data sources that are all going to come with challenges and nuances,' he said. 'You have to be open to new ideas by looking at the data in different ways. You never know where that might lead you.' 3. Innovative Learning for the 21st Century Of the many ways AI has revolutionized the workplace — especially in STEM — the classroom remains a major path for change. Even before COVID-19, classrooms included digital experiences, but now there are even more opportunities to expand health technology skill sets than ever before. On the one hand, you have new AI tools that help automate tedious tasks like grading so that teachers can focus more on students. The market has also seen an influx of new technologies that help make topics more immersive for learners, like MIT's Immersion Lab. 'It's all about making education more personalized, because everyone has their own approach to learning,' Avasthy said. 'I think you'll see these tools continue to improve education, not only for students but also for educators.' Aligning New Trends with Legacy Tools With so many healthcare technology innovations, it's easy to get caught up in the newness of it all. But it's also important to remember that trendspotting is not the only thing that matters in a STEM career. When looking for a well-rounded candidate, most employers seek out the best of both worlds: someone competent in legacy tools but who also has an open mind for what's new. 'You may be learning all these cool new techniques in the classroom, but it's also important to understand yesterday's technology, too,' said Stompanato. 'Because chances are your new job may be using older systems, too. By keeping a pulse on the new as well as the old, you can come in and be the change champion your new employer needs.'