Every December, thought leaders usher in a new year by predicting what trends will impact their respective industries in the coming months. However, the disruption created by the Covid-19 pandemic rendered any rational 2020 prediction null and void — especially in healthcare. With so much uncertainty still lingering, crystal ball gazing feels like an exercise in futility.
So instead of throwing darts in the dark, it may be wiser to replace the traditional new year’s predictions with new year’s prescriptions based on 2020 observations.
Prescription 1: Facilitate telehealth through infrastructure.
As the adage goes necessity is the mother of invention. But in 2020, necessity has actually been the mother of adoption, and by this, I mean technology, especially as it relates to telehealth. With the increased risks that the pandemic has placed on in-person visits, patients who were once reluctant to use telehealth — whether because of technology apprehension or preference for face-to-face interaction — are now embracing it. As a result, telehealth is taking off.
Telehealth adoption has also gotten a boost federally. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) granted reimbursement for telehealth visits at the same rates as in-person visits, and the Department of Health and Human Services eased measures that restricted the use of telehealth. The result was a 50% increase in telehealth adoption for primary care visits between January and June.
In rural communities — or anywhere with connectivity challenges — access to the internet and broadband service must be addressed. Also, underserved communities should have access to telehealth outposts — nearby booths where patients can conduct private virtual appointments. This is an opportunity for a continued push for technology adoption to include care delivery outside of traditional settings.
Prescription 2: Double down on innovation.
Covid-19 is driving people toward a more consumer-like approach to healthcare in which they seek out care that best fits their needs, based on value, convenience and lifestyle. A key component of this shift has been technology that makes the experience easier to manage and allows patients to identify all their options.
Another driving force in engagement: digital natives. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, this demographic has a collective reason to participate in their healthcare experience, and unlike their parents and grandparents, navigating processes digitally is second nature to them. Simply put, a digital-first experience is nonnegotiable to younger people.
In the coming year, it’s critical that more apps be made available that simplify the healthcare process, bring telehealth directly to devices, and allow people to collect and share health data with clinicians. Even more, healthcare partnerships with big retailers that continue to get skin in the healthcare game will make healthcare more convenient and easier to access.
Prescription 3: Make interoperability a greater priority.
During the pandemic, people are interacting with a variety of healthcare organizations, including primary care physicians, specialists, pharmacies and drive-through testing facilities. When their healthcare data doesn’t follow them to each provider, there can be delays in care or redundant services rendered. In the absence of data, speed and accuracy of care — two factors that are critically important to slow the spread of a pandemic — are negatively impacted.
Coupled with price transparency, consumers should be able to manage their health information for preventive and chronic care. The recent strides in interoperability regulation have crystallized the mandate for healthcare organizations to share data without friction to ensure accurate, timely care. But we need a more standardized infrastructure that connects all healthcare information, which will greatly improve care quality. The recently announced delay to regulations that would facilitate greater data sharing in data-blocking regulation shouldn’t slow us down from being on the right side of history here.
Prescription 4: Take on more risk (when it makes sense).
During the pandemic, regular doctor visits dipped, which, for providers, meant a huge drop in revenues, leading to downsizing and losing already slim profit margins. Meanwhile, reduced utilization meant fewer claims for payers to pay out, resulting in them sitting on stacks of cash (that may end up needing to be returned to members).
However, providers and health systems that adopted value-based care reimbursement models fared far better — and others should take note of their success. In short, the decades-long movement from a fee-for-service to value-based care reimbursement model shifts risk to providers and health systems, aligning incentives throughout the supply chain. But this shift has been slow and difficult, with the majority of healthcare payments still being reimbursed through fee-for-service models.
In 2020, the nexus of power in healthcare seems to have shifted to cash-rich payers. In the coming year, we could see them taking on more care delivery through telehealth, chronic care management programs and employed providers — essentially striving for something resembling value-based care coming in from the payer side.
This year has been a veritable healthcare snow globe: shaken vigorously, with structures landing in different places than they once were. We’re seeing an increasing demand in health tech and digital health solutions, particularly in diagnostics and remote patient monitoring. The significant disruption has also shown us that healthcare can move quickly; the industry now has an opportunity to hit the reset button on how it addresses its relationship with patients and the care it offers. The coming year represents an unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of this turning point in healthcare and rebuild it to delight consumers amid their newfound expectations for getting the care they deserve in a format they demand.