In 2020, COVID-19 dominated the agendas of healthcare organizations nationwide. Looking ahead to 2021, there’s little question that the pandemic will continue to make headlines. However, we anticipate that several other healthcare priorities will also share the spotlight.
Here are five trends that we expect to affect the healthcare landscape in the upcoming months:
- The United States will get beyond COVID-19 by combatting vaccine hesitancy. This year started on a positive note, with regulatory approval of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The urgency to get Americans vaccinated is growing, however, as new and more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus gain footholds worldwide. Even if these mutations don’t cause more severe symptoms, increased numbers of COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system. Widespread vaccinations are critically important, but success depends on overcoming vaccine hesitancy. Potential solutions include tailored messages about vaccine safety and efficacy from healthcare providers and plans, as well as public health campaigns featuring celebrity influencers.
- Healthcare providers and plans will adopt a more holistic approach to patient and member care. In 2020, three trends converged which set the stage for more holistic care: (1) recognition that mental health is an integral part of overall health, (2) greater insight into social determinants of health, and (3) technological solutions that support better data analytics and cross-sector collaboration.
The isolation and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have had a profound effect on behavioral health in people of all ages. In addition, contracting COVID-19 seems to be associated with mental health issues. Research has found that nearly one in five people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus is also diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Mental health can no longer be viewed separately from other forms of healthcare. Integrated care delivery is essential for well-being.
The pandemic has also shed light on the ways that racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities affect how people experience COVID-19 and other health conditions. To promote a more holistic approach to care, healthcare systems and plans must incorporate social determinants of health into their standard practices. This requires systems that support analytics, data sharing and elimination of silos across the care continuum.
- As the pandemic recedes, the healthcare sector will re-evaluate the role of telehealth. COVID-19 clearly demonstrated the value of telehealth. However, once life returns to normal and access to in-person care is more widespread, many healthcare organizations will likely re-examine how telehealth fits into their “care toolboxes.” It’s unclear whether consumers will continue to request telehealth consultations once they feel comfortable visiting their practitioners’ offices. More analysis is needed to determine which services are best suited for virtual care and what role remote patient monitoring could play for individuals with chronic health conditions.
- Payment accuracy and program integrity initiatives will help to keep public health programs and private health systems afloat. The economic impact of the pandemic is having dire consequences on public health programs. Tax revenues have decreased significantly. Meanwhile, more and more people are turning to public aid. At the same time, providers face major financial and operational challenges. Demand for non-critical healthcare services is down, putting revenue pressure on healthcare organizations across the nation. Payment accuracy and program integrity solutions will help states and healthcare organizations recoup lost dollars and also defend against fraud, waste and abuse.
- A new healthcare agenda will accompany the transfer of presidential power. To address COVID-19, Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” includes an increased focus on vaccinations, expanded testing, resources for contact tracing and a proposal for investment in genetic sequencing of new virus variants. In addition, the new administration is expected to expand or revisit policies enacted by President Obama, including expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Biden has also acknowledged the importance of population health, committing to reductions in health disparities in communities of color.
There’s no question that many of the challenges over the past year will continue into 2021. However, there’s still cause for optimism. Despite the adversity that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented on so many dimensions, the healthcare sector has still persevered. These times of crisis have also uncovered valuable lessons that will lead to more equitable and human-centered healthcare.