A tough 2024 is on the horizon. Here's how Deloitte says healthcare leaders should prepare

Many of the past year’s buzziest topics and omnipresent struggles will likely rear their heads as major talking points across 2024, per the year-ahead predictions of Deloitte’s healthcare industry heads.

A disruptive pandemic, rapid digital transformation and mounting cost pressures have taken their toll on the industry’s decision-makers, Deloitte’s healthcare sector leader Tina Wheeler and senior manager of its health solutions center Wendy Gerhardt wrote in a Wednesday outlook writeup.

The pair highlighted a recent annual survey of 60 executives that found that only 3% of health system executives and 7% of health plan executives had a “positive” outlook for the coming year—down from the respective 15% and 40% of the prior year’s survey.

“However, there are some bright spots to consider as the industry undergoes convergence,” which the authors described as “the disruption of traditional health care stakeholders, entrance of new players like retailers and tech companies and the reassembly of a new ecosystem that creates opportunities.”

With the shifting—and for many healthcare organizations, unsustainable—status quo in mind, the authors pointed to five likely 2024 trends they said healthcare leaders should get the jump on.

M&A and consolidation

The recent return of health system deal-making is unlikely to go away in the coming year, with 86% of Deloitte’s polled health system executives suggesting that these partnerships will have at least a moderate impact on their 2024 strategy. Non-traditional industry disruptors and innovators are frequent players in these deals, which the authors said “could help legacy health systems transcend from business-as-usual to groundbreaking business models and offerings that meet rapidly changing consumer expectations.”

Generative AI and digital transformation

Buzzy technologies caught much of the limelight across 2023, with industry players and consumers alike poised to become more familiar with the technology in the upcoming months. Particularly within the lens of convergence and consolidation, Deloitte’s consultants called for industry leaders retiring disparate legacy IT systems to hold a spot for the rapidly maturing generative AI when transitioning to a more cohesive digital backbone.

Workforce challenges

The majority of polled health system execs said the year’s widespread workforce shortages, clinician burnout, labor expenses and similar hurdles will impact their organizations in 2024. Deloitte encouraged healthcare leaders to “ensure that they are able to retain employees who have the skills needed to keep up with the changing healthcare landscape,” as well as to “attract and retain new talent employees to help support their digital transformation.”

Outsourcing and offshoring

As tight margins abound, healthcare organizations “should determine what they do well and consider ways to outsource functions that can be done more efficiently and at a lower cost,” the authors wrote. They advocated for conducting a cost-benefit analysis to identify areas such as revenue cycle, billing, claims, human resources and supply chain that could be either partially or fully outsourced.

Affordability and empowered consumers

Survey responses from finance and payer leaders suggest that financial pressures on consumers will impact their strategy in the coming year. Consumers are also becoming more accustomed to digital-enabled conveniences and, per Deloitte’s focus group research, say they would prioritize a provider who can relate and understand their personal needs. The healthcare leaders who can deliver on these demands—potentially through digital tools or more affordable treatment modalities—will be rewarded with consumer loyalty and expanded market share, the authors wrote.

“Last year, we predicted health systems and health plans would need to navigate a turbulent 2023,” the Deloitte healthcare sector heads wrote. “Not to sound like a Debbie Downer, but the sailing likely won’t be any smoother in 2024. The status quo is likely not sustainable and industry reassembly is inevitable.”