Looking back, 2022 presented many challenges across the healthcare landscape, including the lingering effects of the pandemic, losses in the billions of dollars for hospitals and health systems, and clinical workforce shortages.
As we look ahead to the new year, here are five predictions for healthcare in 2023.
The Impact of Continued Consolidation
Multi-billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions are showing no signs of slowing down. In the new year, many small-scale, independent hospitals and providers — especially in rural areas — that are already understaffed will be faced with either closing their doors permanently or being acquired by bigger, well-established entities. Compared to large health systems, small independent hospitals are constrained by lower reimbursement rates from commercial health plans, weak financial reserves, and thinner margins.
The rate of hospital consolidation — which has more than doubled since 2009 — is driving healthcare costs up, creating worse health outcomes, and reducing services available to patients. This decrease in services is having a particularly alarming impact on childbirth as closures of maternity and delivery centers continue to rise in the U.S., where maternal mortality rates already far exceed other industrialized nations. In addition to traditional health system consolidation, negative health outcomes will also be driven in 2023 and beyond by the continued acquisition strategies of non-traditional players in healthcare that include Amazon, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens.
The Emergency Department Crisis
Driven by clinician burnout and resignations, the impact of hospital staffing shortages has created an emergency room crisis. In 2023 and beyond, the urgent care patient experience will likely include overcrowded ERs, longer wait times, and a lack of available inpatient beds. In November 2022, the American College of Emergency Physicians urged the Biden Administration to prioritize finding solutions to address the country’s overcrowded emergency rooms.
One potential avenue to address the ER crisis includes the establishment of boards at the state level to create a centralized strategy for improving the administration of urgent care. Some states are currently exploring ways to alleviate the urgent care burden. For example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation recently recommended that the state form a committee to address the influx of behavioral health patients seeking urgent care, which is a major contributor to ER overcrowding.
The Need to Improve EHR Data Sharing
The need to achieve a standardized, more integrated system for sharing electronic health records (EHRs) will continue to constrain the industry due to existing inefficient and disjointed patient information sharing processes. Additionally, the ongoing wave of mergers and consolidations will exacerbate healthcare’s EHR sharing dilemma as patient information is becoming increasingly siloed, not only from one health system to the next but also within merged organizations.
Health systems that strive to create a more seamless experience for patients will need to focus on utilizing technologies and a skilled workforce to bridge gaps in their EHR systems in the effort to optimize health information management in the years ahead.
An Increased Focus on Health Equity
Improving health outcomes cannot be achieved without health equity. In the simplest terms, health disparities prevent individuals from accessing quality healthcare and create barriers to healthy lifestyles. These disparities can impact a patient’s ability to manage chronic conditions, receive timely treatment, and adhere to care plans. Factors that prevent patients from accessing care and adhering to treatment plans include language barriers, transportation and geography challenges, cost, and low health literacy.
To address health equities in the region it serves, Highmark Health and Allegheny Health Network launched a social care network in 2022 that compensates non-profits that address social determinants of health for its patients. Through this innovative program, 20 participating non-profits in Pennsylvania have the potential to earn value-based reimbursement — this is what the future of whole health looks like.
With the goal of driving better patient outcomes, improving population health, and reducing costs, the focus on health equity will continue to play a key role in healthcare in the years ahead.
The Promise of At Home Care
As health systems continue to explore new ways to provide care while contending with staff shortages and overcrowded treatment facilities, home health care programs will gain traction as a viable option to traditional hospital and medical office-based care. Stericycle’s 2022 U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey revealed that nearly one-third (32%) of younger adults indicated they would seek home health care services. Going forward, health systems will reap the benefits of creating or expanding home health care services which includes nursing care and other skilled care services such as physical and occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, and medical social services.
These are but a handful of trends to watch for and respond to as 2023 unfolds. As unpredictable as the events of the last few years have been, it’s safe to say there will be more unknowns in the days ahead at this critical moment in healthcare.