The business of care is just as exciting as it is unpredictable. Major developments happening now as we approach 2020 are carving out the future of providers, patients and the communities that bring them together.
As a staffing agency, we have to keep a bird’s eye view on the industry to understand market demands and navigate the trends that will affect those we serve. No other industry is subject to the array of factors that affect healthcare. It can’t be lost on us that what happens in this business can quite literally be a matter of life and death. Mandatory vaccines, the rise of home health, mitigating climate change—these are just a few of the phenomena we’ll cover in this analysis.
As the global population continues to climb, it’s more important now than ever that we preserve the quality of this industry. After careful review, we selected only the most pertinent developments affecting our industry and forecasted how they will unfold in the years to come. Now let’s get to it. Here are our nine healthcare predictions for 2020 and beyond.
1. Vaccines will become mandatory.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy or “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” as one of the greatest threats to global health. This trend has been a particularly insidious threat, case in point being the ongoing measles crisis.
We’ve seen a whopping 300% increase in measles cases around the world since 2018. With increasing populations and globalization, the world has become a much smaller place, which means disease will spread further and faster than ever. That’s why more countries including the U.S. are considering stricter vaccination laws.
The U.S. in particular has seen its biggest measles outbreak since 1994, with 704 cases affecting states all over the country. At present, each of its states require children to be vaccinated prior to attending school, but most grant exemptions to families for medical, religious and philosophical reasons.
After this latest crisis, however, states are cracking down on these exemptions. Lawmakers in Washington and New York, both of which had the highest concentrations of the outbreak, are pushing legislation forward to make vaccines mandatory.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed House Bill 1638 into law earlier in May, which eliminates exemptions based on personal and philosophical beliefs. In the announcement, he declares, "In Washington state we believe in our doctors. We believe in our nurses. We believe in our educators. We believe in science and we love our children. And that is why in Washington state, we are against measles."
New York lawmakers are still up in arms as to whether or not the state should eliminate religious exemptions with a bill that has come to a deadlock on the Assembly floor. Oregon is also making moves to cut exemptions, and others are following suit.
These developments aren’t just in legislation though. They have also transcended into media, as more outlets like Facebook are working to combat the spread of misinformation regarding vaccines. If this year is any indication of what’s to come, we can expect the push for mandatory vaccines to only get stronger.
But what lies at the heart of this controversy is whether or not people’s personal liberties should be dissolved for the greater good. Should people have a choice in what they put into their bodies, or are philosophical and religious beliefs not enough to justify a public health crisis?
2. Urgent care demand will surpass primary care.
Personal beliefs aside, another reason people may not be getting their vaccinations is because many do not have a primary care physician (PCP) to keep them and their families on the recommended immunization schedule.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates a generational trend that’s making waves in the healthcare industry. Only about half (55%) of millennials aged 18 to 29 years old report having a primary care provider.
In contrast, the numbers are much higher for older age groups: 72% of Americans aged 30 to 49 have a PCP. For Americans 50 to 64 years old, that number is 82% and 88% for those at least 65.
Younger Americans are opting to use urgent care clinics on an as-needed basis, instead of having regular checkups with a PCP. The main reasons for this trend are that the walk-in clinics are faster, cheaper and more convenient, with many offering telehealth services and staying open during evening hours and weekends.
These benefits are certainly alluring on the surface, but there is a downside. For one, these millennials are forgoing a relationship with someone who could be critical to their health should it ever be jeopardized.
Patients without a PCP will struggle to receive coordinated care and get whatever tests and specialty referrals they may need. That, and chances are these patients will actually end up spending more on fragmented and unnecessary care, as well as superfluous and even dangerous prescriptions.
The best thing patients can do to receive optimal, cost-effective treatment is to have a long-standing relationship with a PCP who knows them and their medical history.
As the President of the American Academy of Family Physicians Michael Munger said, “We all need care that is coordinated and longitudinal. Regardless of how healthy you are, you need someone who knows you.” And of course, it’s better to figure that out before a health crisis arises, not in the midst of it. In fact, many people may be facing a health crisis and not even know it without the help of a PCP.
To adapt to the younger generation’s preferences, many primary care facilities are working to accommodate millennial patients by employing more providers to cut down on wait times. Other tactics include implementing same-day appointments and telehealth services.
These offerings are the best way for facilities to stay afloat and ensure that patients of all ages won’t have to compromise quality care for convenience and speed.
3. Telehealth will become a necessity for facilities to survive—but will also make the healthcare industry more vulnerable than ever.
Technology has become an integral part of the healthcare industry in the digital age, and facilities that are slow to adapt will suffer.
In fact, a 2017 survey showed that one in five Americans would switch their current PCP to one that offered telehealth services. That’s why about three fourths (72%) of hospitals and over half (52%) of physician groups have these accommodations and why more health insurers are covering them.
There are some challenges that come with this trend. For one, many providers find this newer tech rather cumbersome and time consuming, with physicians spending about two thirds of their time on tedious data entries.
Another major hurdle is cybersecurity. With the rise of telehealth operations and digital health records, medical facilities have become a prime target for cybercriminals. Ninety percent of hospitals experienced a cybersecurity breach in the last two years, and these breaches cost the healthcare industry over $6 billion annually.
Patient health records have far fewer protections than financial information, yet these records include critical data like social security numbers, insurance information, home and work addresses, familial information and more.
Hackers can steal a patient’s insurance information and sell it, which on average costs over $22,300 per victim. The victim may even lose their life, disability or long-term care insurance if someone ineligible for their coverage uses it.
As if that isn’t insidious enough, hackers can also tamper with any medical device that stores information wirelessly, like heart defibrillators and insulin pumps. Even former vice president Dick Cheney was wary of assassination attempts via his implanted heart defibrillator.
When it comes to cybercrime, healthcare is more vulnerable than any other industry because it offers the most valuable data but has the least amount of protection.
Even still, the benefits of telehealth outweigh the risks. One huge benefit is the accessibility. These services make care more readily available to the 62 million Americans living in rural parts of the country, where less than one tenth of physicians practice.
Accessibility and convenience aside, another way telehealth improves the industry is by making quality care less expensive and more efficient. Research shows that 75% of all primary care, urgent care and emergency room visits are either unnecessary or do not require an in-person appointment.
Virtual appointments cost patients about a third of what they would spend on a primary care visit, while simultaneously enabling some providers to make more money by increasing their census rates.
Another perk telemedicine offers providers is that it increases patient compliance. Almost 40% of physicians report that noncompliance is a hurdle to their work, with up to 75% of patients not following instructions. Studies have shown that telehealth plays a pivotal role in alleviating this problem by giving patients more autonomy in their treatment and making them more engaged.
The transition to virtual care is exactly what the industry needs to remedy its problems of the past while shaping it for the years to come. That said, there is much to risk in making these kinds of profound changes in an industry that affects everyone on such a personal level. Few other industries can make people as vulnerable as health care—but only because it’s that important.
This concludes Part 1 in our series “9 Healthcare Predictions for 2020 and Beyond.” Stay tuned for Part 2 where we cover the future of the locum tenens industry, legislation affecting Advanced Practice Providers and the rise of home health.