5 Healthcare Predictions for 2021, Part 2

Key Learnings

  • Population health management will play an essential role in leading healthcare delivery transformation.
  • Interoperability regulations will drive a more consumer-centric healthcare system in 2021.
  • An accelerated development of digital tools and systems will ease physician burdens.
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As I covered in a prior post, 2020 ushered in a host of realities prompting five healthcare predictions for 2021. If you missed “5 Healthcare Predictions for 2021, Part 1”, check it out here.

Third prediction: Increased attention to population health management

In 2021, the healthcare sector will need to address demographic-based disparities and increase patient engagement in their health and wellbeing. The fact is, many people had health needs that were largely ignored in 2020 for a variety of reasons – including loss of employer health insurance, personal finance issues or simply fear of treatment in a COVID-19 world.

The unemployment rates faced in 2020 reached highs not seen since the Great Depression – and we will continue to see sustained unemployment in 2021. In our multi-payer system, many Americans receive health benefits through their employers – but the unemployed have lost this access after furloughs, layoffs or job eliminations.

For a family of four, continuing benefits through COBRA may become an impossibility as rates without the employer contribution represent a many-times increase, often three or four times the cost. Faced with tough choices, when monthly COBRA insurance is the equivalent of a monthly rent payment, some will put off paying for health care until a catastrophic event occurs such as an illness or accident. On a less dramatic level, though – many others will delay preventive care like childhood vaccines or diabetes maintenance care.

“Interventions to identify health inequities and support digital access should continue to address the disparities highlighted by the pandemic,” according to The American Journal of Managed Care. “By creating efficiency and improving outcomes, population health can both advance our system of health care delivery and support the changing needs of providers, payers, and patients.”

Still others were simply afraid to seek care when the health system is already straining under the burden of COVID-19. All of this adds up to deficiencies in population health management that presents later, compounded due to socioeconomic issues.

Fourth prediction: Interoperability regulations will drive more consumer-centric care

New interoperability regulations will drive a more consumer-centric healthcare system in 2021. In late 2020, CMS published proposed rule CMS-9123-P. Building on existing rules, the new rules, covering both health systems and health plans, are intended to ensure that patients can electronically access their healthcare information regardless of health system or type of electronic health records (EHR) and cover all CMS-regulated plan types, including Medicare Advantage, CHIP, and the Federally Facilitated Exchanges.

Interoperability, an enduring goal, is intended to replace the current fragmented and error-prone ways of exchanging healthcare information. Most health systems are looking at the new federal data-sharing requirements from a compliance perspective. In fact, according to PWC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) Health Executive Survey, only about 24 percent of providers and health plan executives say their organizations view the new federal rules on interoperability as a strategic opportunity.

According to the HRI research, as the new rules force health systems to make patient health information readily available, healthcare organizations focusing too closely on compliance may be left behind by health systems that also focus on earn consumer trust, synthesize data and develop innovative products and services.

Organizations that zero in on the new interoperability rules as opportunities beyond compliance and develop agile strategies will come out ahead in 2021.

Fifth prediction: Health IT will renew its work on easing physician and nurse burnout

In 2021, we will see accelerated development of digital tools and systems to ease clinician burdens. The pandemic has taken a severe toll on physicians and nurses, who were already struggling with burnout and time spent on administrative tasks.

These administrative tasks are on top of the emotional and physical fatigue represented by the human costs of COVID-19. With more than 20 million Americans engaged in clinical care on the front lines, and millions more of us working in careers allied to the field, nearly everyone knows a clinician who has struggled with the symptoms of burnout.

I have full confidence in the ingenuity and talent required to make inroads at improving the experience of our healthcare professionals. Just as technology has transformed nearly every sector of the economy, healthcare is ripe for change at the magnitude forced by COVID-19.

In other words – let’s never let a crisis go to waste; instead we can funnel the energy into problem solving to make the new year the one in which physicians can more easily collaborate and care for their patients. This prediction is made more possible as a growing number of market influences already recognize the urgent need to streamline workflows and simplify communications. Clinical collaboration tools that incorporate secure messaging and workflows will be essential to that work.

Final Thoughts 

Each of these healthcare predictions for 2021 is a piece of a larger  aim focused on advancing care and working more efficiently to save time, money and lives. While it is clear that COVID-19 will remain at the forefront of healthcare headlines in 2021, I am confident we will also see innovation and progress – and I look forward to returning to this list in twelve months to reflect once again.

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