It is impossible to predict the future — especially where the healthcare industry is concerned. If doctors, nurses and administrators could have foretold the events of the past two years, we might have developed our healthcare systems to stand up better to a global pandemic.
Still, there are some trends that healthcare industry experts have anticipated, like the rise of telehealth and the ever-increasing costs of medical care. While COVID is likely to continue to cause problems for healthcare providers, those within the industry also have the following trends to look forward to in 2022:
Primary Care Consumerization
The first clinics in retail stores began opening more than 20 years ago, but the trend of offering primary care in consumer retail spaces is accelerating. It is easy to see why: Retail stores like CVS, Walgreens, Target and Walmart tend to be located closer to home than the average doctor’s office, and patients can receive medical services, pick up prescriptions and grocery shop all in the same location when they rely on retail clinics for primary care. What’s more, major retailers have collected incredible amounts of data on consumers, which improves their ability to cater to consumer needs even in a complex field like healthcare.
Virtual healthcare, also called telehealth or emedicine, is another path toward primary care consumerization. Already, consumers have their option of a few virtual care providers, such as Teladoc, Amwell, Twilio and Sesame. Though virtual healthcare has its limitations — virtual providers cannot run tests or prescribe certain medications, for example — it also improves the convenience of primary care, increasing the likelihood that patients will engage.
Both retail healthcare and virtual healthcare are changing patient expectations regarding convenience and response time, prompting traditional healthcare providers to change. In 2022, it might be useful for healthcare providers to enroll in healthcare management courses focused on navigating disruptive trends like consumerization. Then, hospitals and other traditional health systems will have a greater ability to compete in the increasingly diverse healthcare marketplace.
Much of the U.S. is suffering from a healthcare staffing shortage, and every state could develop a staffing crisis by 2026 if current trends continue. There are severe consequences for staff shortages in healthcare; though widespread data on the effects of staff shortages is scarce, patients and healthcare providers are generally subject to diminished capacity, which can result in lower-quality care and even safety concerns.
Many providers are searching for fast and easy solutions to staff shortages, and automation is becoming ever more essential. Automating key steps within the patient journey can liberate staff to apply their knowledge and skill to more critical services. Virtual assistants and digital applications can guide patients through the early, administrative stages of the care process, helping them make appointments, complete health histories, input insurance information and more. Plus, automated services can even perform rudimentary clinical work, like collecting patient symptoms and perhaps even assisting providers with diagnoses using machine learning or AI tools.
The COVID pandemic exacerbated staffing difficulties by pushing many older healthcare professionals into retirement and causing many providers to experience devastating burnout. Unfortunately, because COVID doesn’t seem ready to disappear as a health threat just yet, healthcare facilities will need to be creative to ensure that staffing shortages do not negatively impact patient outcomes, which means relying on automation to fill in the gaps.
Hospital System Consolidation
Over the past few decades, small, local hospitals have joined together to form large, regional healthcare systems and even massive, national and international medical groups. There are some benefits to large hospital systems: They have more purchasing power for medical supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals, so they have greater leverage to negotiate with manufacturers and insurers to lower prices for patients. Plus, larger healthcare organizations can afford cutting-edge solutions that also cut costs while improving patient outcomes.
However, now large hospital groups are consolidating at a rapid pace. The Healthcare Financial Management Association found that transactions of healthcare mergers and acquisitions increased over 21 percent between 2019 and 2020. Soon, healthcare providers could function as monopolies, which is likely to result in higher prices for patients and lower quality of care thanks to a lack of competition in the hospital space. There are rumors about greater regulation of healthcare consolidation at the federal level from agencies like the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice. However, it is unlikely that regulatory action will be taken in 2022, so those within the healthcare industry should prepare for continuing consolidation in the coming year.
Consumerization, automation and consolidation are trends that did not begin in 2021, but they are almost certain to intensify in 2022. Being aware of such largescale shifts and preparing for them should allow healthcare companies to continue serving providers and patients through the New Year.