2020 was a challenging year for the healthcare sector and patients alike. As we turn the page on 2020, it’s a good time to think about the future. In September, healthcare leaders convened virtually for the HMS Momentum 2020 conference. During this event, Ken Fasola, CEO of Magellan Health, Mary Grealy, President of the Healthcare Leadership Council, and Aaron Lambert, President and CEO of Healthy Blue Louisiana, offered their predictions about what healthcare may look like in 2025.
These experts see five trends on the horizon:
- Increased awareness about the importance of behavioral health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have spoken more openly about mental health issues and their experience with care. Ken Fasola noted, “The pandemic has created more awareness about behavioral health and reduced the stigma associated with mental and physical health.” More people are now recognizing the linkage between mental and physical health. This connection was underscored in a recent study, which found that 20% of individuals infected with the novel coronavirus are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety, depression or dementia within 90 days. In 2025, individuals may feel as comfortable reaching out for behavioral health services as they do visiting their primary care physician for the flu or a physical injury.
- Widespread acceptance of telemedicine. Telehealth is another area that has been influenced by the pandemic. Aaron Lambert commented, “COVID-19 has proved that virtual care can work. We’re excited about the potential for virtual care to manage chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity.” McKinsey & Company has predicted that up to $250 billion of health spending in the United States could shift to virtual care. Promising areas for telehealth include virtual urgent care, office visits, home health services and technology-enabled home medication administration. As Mary Grealy remarked, “Telemedicine is here to stay.”
- Expanded adoption of AI and machine learning in the administrative realm of healthcare. Healthcare leaders expect technology solutions based on AI and machine learning technologies to revolutionize data entry for electronic medical records, as well as patient billing. “Digital scribes,” for example, use machine learning to analyze conversations between doctors and patients. The algorithms parse the text and enter the appropriate information into the electronic health record system. Medical coders are also beginning to work with computer-assisted coding systems. These solutions use AI and machine learning to analyze charts and notes to identify which billing codes are most suitable. Some believe that in the near future, human coders will audit and supervise these AI-enabled coding systems.
- Proliferation of retail healthcare centers and clinics. Market researchers expect the retail clinic market in the United States to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 10.2% between 2020 and 2027. While retail clinics are a good option for straightforward medical issues, they are unlikely to replace traditional care settings. According to Aaron Lambert, the value delivered by these clinics could increase through closer ties with traditional providers. “Retail healthcare centers and clinics will continue to grow. Walmart and CVS can do a lot in low income areas, but they need more integration with provider clinics,” he noted.
- A trend towards managing the health of the “whole person.” Looking ahead, healthcare leaders see opportunities for more patient-centered systems that will support a holistic approach to care. Data interoperability will be the key to making this vision a reality. As Ken Fasola observed, “We often get ‘swim lanes’ of data. Without all the data for a patient, we can’t realistically reduce the total cost of care. Providers need to collaborate and share patient information.”
As patients, providers and health plans continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be hard to look beyond the next day or week. However, these challenging times will eventually pass, and it’s encouraging to think about a future where technology, new business models and pandemic-related learnings converge to create a more robust, efficient and equitable healthcare ecosystem.