As many of us are adapting to living in a world gripped by COVID-19, the pandemic continues to overstretch the health system. From increased medical costs due to greater utilization to preparation for the next pandemic and investments in digital health, the U.S. health system is being shaped and transformed by changing demands and expectations many of which are consumer-driven. As we move closer to 2022, here’s a look at some emerging trends that are likely here to stay.
Rising Medical Costs
According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, the medical cost trend for 2022 is projected to increase by 6.5%. The medical cost trend refers to the percentage increase in the cost of treating patients from year to year and is calculated based on the previous year. The medical cost trend slightly decreased in 2021 as many consumers deferred care during the pandemic. Consumers report having delayed preventive visits and routine visits for chronic illness, laboratory tests, and screenings, but are now seeking care. As a result, spending will increase due to higher health care utilization in 2022, and in some cases, more medical intervention will be required.
Preparing for the Next Pandemic
The health system is still grappling with COVID-19, and costs related to testing, treating, and administering vaccine boosters will persist into next year. At the same time, the health system is planning and preparing for the next pandemic. Preparation includes investing in forecasting tools, supply chains, staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and infrastructure. Therefore, when the next pandemic hits, the system in place can easily facilitate data and information sharing across industries to ensure better and more equitable health care delivery. Furthermore, health care organizations and staff will have the necessary tools to perform their duties safely with the right equipment and technology.
Greater Utilization of Care
COVID-19 aside, the general population’s health has worsened since the start of the pandemic. The radical changes in how we live, work, and socialize have taken a toll on our mental health. Studies indicate that over 30% of Americans exhibited depressive symptoms as well as an up shoot in substance use and abuse. This effect has been accompanied by lower levels of physical activity and poor dietary and sleep habits, which are connected to wellness and vitality. Consequently, 2022 will likely see increased demand for mental health services and treatment for substance abuse and other health problems.
Investing in Digital Health Technology
While the health industry has been slow to adopt new technology, the pandemic spurred an unprecedented move towards digital health, a trend that will continue to grow. More health care providers are now leveraging technology to access their patients, get to know them better, and provide better care. Health care providers can reach more patients since they are no longer limited by geographical area. Thanks to virtual care, digital therapeutics, and telehealth, patients are easily able to book a visit with their doctor or therapist and consult with a medical professional for health issues.
The implementation of such technology has been highly beneficial as patients can avoid taking a whole day off work or having to arrange childcare or transportation. They can also bypass crowded waiting rooms, which only further expose them to illness.
Through data analytics, AI, and customer relationship management (CRM) tools, providers can learn about their patients’ preferences, habits, and behaviors. This, in turn, allows for medical professionals to improve the quality of care and provide a better experience for their patients, facilitating scheduling and managing wait times.
Consumer-led Health Care
Health care has become a top priority, and consumers are finding new ways to get the care they want and require. Sometimes called the consumerization of health, this trend sees consumers shop around for the best and lower-cost options. As we’ve written in a previous blog on health care technology, consumers are increasingly more informed about their health and are demanding better care. They have higher expectations and want to be more involved in the health care process than ever.
This new consumer-led approach is impacting the health care industry and delivery models. By utilizing telehealth, retail clinics, and medical concierge services, consumers have broader access at a lower cost, which is also reducing the number of visits to emergency rooms. As Kirk Roy, Vice President of Underwriting and Actuarial at Blue Cross Shield of Michigan notes, “People are only going in for important things. This is a behavioral change.” Experts like Roy predict that emergency department (ED) volumes will not return to pre-pandemic levels. Over 30% of ED visits are non-emergencies (and could be handled by retail clients), which means the health system will save billions of dollars.
The aftermath of COVID-19 has led to an increase in health-related spending, weighing heavily on consumers, patients, health care workers, and medical staff. The health system’s vulnerabilities have also created an opportunity to innovate and broaden the scope of health care provision by using technology. By focusing on consumers, health care providers are finding new ways to unlock new markets, improve the quality of care, and create better patient experiences.
To learn more about how POS systems can help your medical practice, read Advances in Medical Admin Treats Physician Burnout.
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