It’s no secret that the healthcare industry is feeling the strain right now. In 2019, the National Academies of Medicine (NAM) described burnout as having reached “crisis” levels, with 54 percent of nurses and physicians suffering from burnout. And that was before the pandemic came and threw everything into overdrive.
And that’s not even mentioning the ever-growing shortage of healthcare workers. The American Hospital Association has called the shortage a “national emergency,” and current estimates put the shortage at “446,000 home health aides, 95,000 nursing assistants, 98,700 medical and lab technologists and technicians, and more than 29,000 nurse practitioners” by 2025, according to Mercer.
That all being the case, you can expect to see plenty of changes coming in the American healthcare landscape. As healthcare providers work to counteract burnout, work shortages, and more, here are just three health trends to look for in 2023.
In a recent report by Bain & Company, healthcare IT ranked as a top three strategic priority for almost 40 percent of providers and top five for nearly 80 percent. That’s because providers are trying to ease the burden on their shrinking but overworked staff. By investing in technology—specifically, automation—providers relieve physicians and other staff from the slog of technical processes and free them to spend more time on what they do best: take care of patients.
One specific area with potential for automation is prior authorization (PA). PA is, as Healthcare.gov puts it, “a decision by your health insurer or plan that a health care service, treatment plan, prescription drug or durable medical equipment is medically necessary.” The goal is to ensure that patients receive the right care for their medical needs. As such, there’s a lot riding on the successful implementation of the PA process.
“AI-enabled PA can automate 50 to 75 percent of manual tasks, boosting efficiency, reducing costs, and freeing clinicians at both payers and providers to focus on complex cases and actual care delivery and coordination,” says a recent report by McKinsey. “This, in turn, may improve the healthcare experience for both clinicians and insurance plan members.”
More Virtual Care for Patients
While the days of the in-home doctor visit are long past, virtual visits are the next-best thing—and increasingly popular among physicians and patients alike. In 2016, only 14 percent of physicians were conducting virtual visits. In 2022, that number reached 80 percent. And patients are understandably taking advantage of the offering: In 2021, 37 percent of adults used telemedicine in the past 12 months, with women being more likely than men to use the service.
“The physician adoption rate of digital health tools has accelerated as physicians grow increasingly optimistic about the advantages that properly designed digital health tools can have for patient care if key requirements are met,” says Jack Resneck Jr., MD, president of the American Medical Association.
According to an AMA study, physicians see plenty of potential in virtual care, including aiding in chronic disease management, supporting preventive care, addressing and automating administrative burdens, supporting care for less acute patients, and improving access to care in underserved areas.
Greater Affordability for Essential Prescription Drugs
In the US, less than 2 percent of the population uses specialty medication—medication prescribed for complex conditions like arthritis and cancer—but spending on specialty medications accounts for over half of all drug spending. The high cost of these medications represents a huge burden on some of the most vulnerable among our neighbors, friends, and family members.
Rather than accept this as the status quo, some drug manufacturers are investing in biosimilars—products that are clinically equivalent to FDA-approved drugs—with more than 90 biosimilars currently in production and expected to reach the market soon.
“Biosimilars hold tremendous promise to improve the affordability of life-changing specialty medications, and this is part of our work to expand access to them and achieve lower costs for the employers and members we serve,” says Katy Wong, chief pharmacy officer at Cigna Pharmacy. “By placing biosimilars on our formularies in the same position as Humira, we’re also ensuring that physicians and patients have choice and flexibility as they assess these additional biosimilar therapies.”
As we continue into 2023, we’re bound to see more and more evolving trends in healthcare. With these three, at least—automation, virtual care, and affordability—change means improvement.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.