As the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry faces a variety of ongoing challenges and shifts in delivery of care, according to a new 2022 predictions report.
The report was put together by analysts at Forrester, a global market research firm.
They identified five key predictions for the coming year:
1. Health disparities will negatively impact rural Americans twice as much as urban Americans
Patients living in rural communities are more likely to be harmed for a variety of reasons, including social disparities, chronic health conditions, higher suicide rates and widespread hospital closures. In 2020 alone, nearly two dozen rural hospitals closed, Natalie Schibell, a senior analyst in the healthcare vertical at Forrester, told Fierce Healthcare. As a result, patients had to travel farther for care.
Other exacerbating factors include barriers to broadband access and clinician licensing challenges. While these barriers are not new, “the pandemic was really the nail in the coffin,” Schibell said. These factors also impact COVID-19 vaccination rates.
To counter these issues, more federal aid is needed to facilitate virtual care and better reimbursement models, Forrester noted in its report. Schibell came up with this prediction after digging into COVID-19 mortality rates among urban and rural populations, she said, which are twice as high in rural areas.
2. Labor shortages will double the medication error rate among providers
Forrester’s analysis estimated that rapid clinician turnover and burnout will contribute to “irreversible patient impacts” such as adverse drug reactions due to medication errors and administrative flaws. In turn, the risk of illness and mortality among patients will rise.
To combat this, Forrester recommends being vigilant about prescribing practices with the help of barcode medication administration and intravenous infusion safety systems. A hospital’s electronic health record can also be leveraged to intercept adverse drug events.
Use of these technologies should be supplemented by medication administration training programs.
3. Healthcare will no longer be considered a trusted industry as misinformation and cyberattacks continue
As misleading or false information about COVID-19 continues to spread, Forrester predicts more patients will avoid being treated for their conditions and more clinics will close. Cyberattacks in the healthcare industry are also pervasive and costly and serve to further erode trust in the trade.
“Until the industry demonstrates an ability to rein in these risks, healthcare will only move backward in measures of trust,” the report read.
4. Sixty percent of virtual care visits will be related to mental health
In July of this year, mental health made up 60% of virtual care visits, according to national data referred to by Forrester. The firm predicts this rate will continue into 2022 despite the fact the overall number of virtual care visits is expected to decline.
“The mental health crisis won’t wane after the pandemic,” the report stated.
In fact, Forrester predicts that mental health will be the first area in healthcare to make the switch to virtual or hybrid care models at scale. Other areas of appeal that will drive demand for these services include accessibility and cost efficiency. Increased competition also has the potential to lower costs, which will further encourage adoption of teletherapy and patient engagement.
5. The number of hospital-at-home providers will triple
Although hospital-at-home programs are not new, reimbursement for them has historically been limited. The pandemic was a major catalyst for shifting acute hospital care into patients’ homes, given the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and limit surge capacity.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been in a “sprint” to approve hospitals doing at-home care for Medicare reimbursement, the report noted, adding 29 just in the third quarter of 2021. A CMS proposed rule will also allow for value-based reimbursement for these services.
Aside from a federal push to bring attention to this space, Forrester expects investments in these programs to continue growing. “Hospitals must reimagine care delivery beyond brick and mortar, and hospital-at-home models are one viable option,” the report said. Schibell emphasized that technologies like remote patient monitoring and artificial intelligence need to be leveraged to help usher in this shift and scale.