- Telehealth is here to stay.
- The “walls” of the healthcare system will continue to blur
- Population health management will play an essential role in leading healthcare delivery transformation.
A natural tradition in ending one year and beginning the next is reflecting on what we’ve learned and planning for the future. As I described last week, 2020 was the year of superlatives – most, hardest, and unprecedented. The impact on the healthcare industry has been profound. And while healthcare systems across the country continue to struggle under the weight of demands imposed by COVID-19, there is light ahead. Here are five healthcare predictions for 2021:
First prediction: Telehealth is here to stay
COVID-19 forced the healthcare industry to accept, adopt and utilize telehealth services at scale. As TechRepublic describes, “In 2020, many barriers to telemedicine were finally torn down, after decades of work from entrepreneurs and physicians. The new demands imposed by COVID-19 provided the motivation to solve regulatory and infrastructure demands that had previously been insurmountable.”
In other words, healthcare adapted and adapted quickly. In fact, according to Fierce Healthcare, COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital health and virtual care forward by at least three years.
And, just as the industry grew in its acceptance of telehealth, so did healthcare consumers. Patients have become more comfortable with telemedicine and, because they will continue to avoid exposure to COVID-19 in 2021, the demand for telehealth will remain high.
Hybrid models are likely to emerge combining digital check-ins with in-person visits.
Second prediction: The walls of healthcare will continue to blur
In the first weeks of COVID-19 emerging in March and April 2020, we saw the walls of hospitals change – quite literally. In many facilities, patient rooms were modified with temporary or permanent air flow solutions to allow for negative pressure. While this emergency construction was out of necessity, I expect future construction planning will keep flexibility in mind. While specialized facilities will always have a place, flexible spaces allow for a variety of planned – and unplanned – medical events to be accommodated, as needed and when needed.
And just like the physical walls had to change, so will the virtual walls. COVID-19 will continue to force renewed collaboration between sites of care and systems. When patient volumes are heavy in one community or region, and light in another, transfers remain vital and so does the need to exchange information quickly and easily – the promise of interoperability. More on this below.
Third prediction: Increased attention to population health management
Population health management will play an essential role in leading healthcare delivery transformation in 2021. “True population health management helps to develop a partnership between providers and the patient community built on mutual trust and effort to generate better outcomes for everyone involved in the process of care,” writes Health IT Analytics.
Last week, I noted the number of Americans postponing or avoiding preventative healthcare has grown from a limited issue to a widespread one. As we go forward into 2021, we will need to better understand whether patients are reluctant to risk exposure to the virus, lack health insurance, or are struggling financially and cannot justify preventative healthcare costs – and we will have to meet them where they are.
The sad truth is that many people have struggled to cover healthcare costs for years – but until now we have never had this many struggling to cover costs, at once. It’s likely that the burden will remain on the health care providers, forcing renewed focus on finding efficiencies throughout the care continuum.
But rather than reducing care quality, I believe efficiencies can be found elsewhere in the areas supporting patient care – using technology. I cover this in more detail in 5 Healthcare Predictions for 2021, Part 2.
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