How Healthcare will change 2021 in the wake of Covid
2021 will see an overwhelming influx of patients with chronic conditions seeking treatment
Telehealth will become more balanced – and wisely used
Medical Wisdom will continue to flourish
The race for Covid-19 therapies and vaccines will dominate the first part of year
By Raegan Garber Le Douaron, President of WeCare tlc
Who’s ready to say “Bye Felicia” to 2020? Although COVID-19 has had countless benefits on our organization, such as allowing us time to retool and restructure, I am looking forward to focusing on something besides the Coronavirus. In that spirit, I say “thank you” 2020 for all its lessons and opportunities and look forward to what we expect to happen in the health care arena in 2021 and beyond.
When I think about the focuses of our health care community in the upcoming year, I believe that four key trends will focus on health care professionals and patients alike.
Trend 1: An Influx of Patients with Neglected Chronic Conditions
I know I prefaced this article by saying we would look away from COVID, but we cannot forget the effects COVID had on health care. The reality is that because of COVID, access to preventative and primary care for patients who have complex and costly chronic conditions was severely diminished.
Patients were left without access to care and were not engaged to the level needed to ensure proper maintenance care. Remember this is not a small percentage of the population. According to cdc.gov, 6 in 10 Americans have at least one chronic condition, and 4 in 10 have two or more. Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability. Most of them are preventive. Let that sink in.
So, what happened to these patients? They did not receive the care needed. As we move into 2021 and resume more “normal” activities, individuals will begin to reestablish with a provider or present an urgent or emergent situation in an emergency room and resulting in a catastrophic claim.
What to watch for: As individuals look to reestablish routine care, we also have to look at what happened to primary care providers during COVID. According to a recent Jama article, many physicians’ offices had to close permanently or reduce hours. The reasons for this are many. Most practices saw a significant decline in patient visits. They were not able to offer telehealth services when in-patient visits were limited. And even if they could convert to telehealth, telehealth visits’ reimbursement is at a much lower rate than in-person visits, which became financially unsustainable to many practices.
The takeaway: As demand rises, access will decrease. Rising health care costs will more than likely follow due to unavailable or inconvenient treatment and care options.
Trend 2: More Balanced Use of Telehealth Services
One great thing about COVID was that it forced the medical community to adopt and embrace telehealth or virtual services. And guess what? Those services worked! Luckily our company could pivot quickly to virtual visits. Still, as soon as it was safe to do so, we moved back into promoting in-person visits in addition to our virtual visits.
I have seen those in our niche industry overemphasize the importance of telehealth services. It may be easier and cheaper to scale for companies offering telehealth services, but overusing this service can result in missed opportunities for diagnosing, treating, and building the necessary relationships for patient buy-in to their long-term health plan and goals.
What to watch for: Telehealth/virtual visits are a great way to broaden your reach and to provide another point of access to patients; however, be cautious of advice to utilize it for the majority of care.
Takeaway: Use virtual visits as an arrow in your quiver, not the silver bullet.
Trend 3: Practicing Medical Wisdom
If we are going to reverse the statistics of 6 out of 10 Americans having at least one chronic condition, we will have to bring wisdom into our health habits and health care.
What is Medical Wisdom? I’m defining it as understanding and considering the repercussions of health decisions on the totality of your overall health care. I assert that as individuals, as a result of our health care system being so fragmented, we have lost touch with what true health and wellness means and how to achieve it. So have many practitioners who provide health care. Mainly because the U.S. health care system is so fragmented, there is little to no cooperation amongst various specialists and primary care doctors on behalf of a patient.
Our company is committed to changing how health care is delivered in the United States. One of the essential components of “undoing” the current system is to have a collaborative, holistic view of the patient’s health from both the patient and clinical care team’s perspective. A person’s entirety is collectively considered before medications are prescribed, treatments recommended, and a care plan offered. Each decision made by the care team and the patient has been thoughtfully evaluated for repercussions utilizing each party’s experience and knowledge.
What to watch for: This is not a widely practiced phenomenon and may be hard to come by. However, by utilizing your medical wisdom, you can carefully evaluate your potential partners to provide health care that aligns with these values. They are out there. I promise.
Takeaway: Once we demand more conscious and wise health care, health care will be forced to rise and meet our demands. It’s happening already, and it will become more prevalent in the year ahead. This is a “new normal” that I can live with!
Trend 4: The search for more Covid 19 therapies and a vaccine
I hate to close with COVID, but the reality is we will still be dealing with it in 2021. The focus will be finding a “cure” or a vaccine to find a reliable therapy for COVID. Viruses (such as the flu and HIV) are different from bacterial infections and don’t generally have cures; they have therapies. If you can find a treatment that negates the effects of the high number of deaths, the “crisis” aspect of COVID-19 will decrease. It will be a mostly manageable virus that we can live with. Several promising therapies have been peer-reviewed, and treatments will continue to develop as we move into 2021 and beyond.
What to watch for: The overpromise of a vaccine. The latest estimates say it will take longer to distribute than first thought and many American are hesitant because the process has become politicized.
Takeaway: Watch for the development of one or more therapies. They are out there!
Raegan Garber Le Douaron is President of WeCare tlc a leader in onsite and near-site advanced primary care healthcare centers for employers. The company is on a mission to change how healthcare is delivered in the United States through disrupting the typical model. WeCare tlc operates 54 healthcare centers in 10 states and serves more than 100 clients. Health centers are available to individual employers or can be created through a cooperative effort of multiple companies.