Though COVID-19 has defied all predictions, perhaps the only certainty is this: Even if cases taper to endemic levels this year, the virus leaves a depleted health care workforce in its wake.
That's why, as my team and I pulled together our annual list of health care predictions, we're calling 2022 "the year of the caregiver."
Doubling down to support the nation’s caregivers will be the No. 1 health care priority. After two traumatic years on the front lines, supporting the mental health and well-being of health care professionals and rebuilding the workforce will be an absolute imperative.
Two years ago, Providence admitted the first known U.S. patient with COVID-19 and has stood with caregivers throughout the pandemic. Some of the steps Providence has taken to support the well-being of caregivers are captured in this recent Health Progress article.
In addition to the workforce crisis, health systems will have to balance other big challenges in the year ahead. What can you expect from health care in 2022? Here are our top 10 predictions.
- The year of the caregiver: Healing and rebuilding a depleted health-care workforce will be a major national imperative.
Health care personnel were in short supply prior to the pandemic. But the stress and, frankly, trauma of serving on the front lines for a protracted period has led to an exodus of people leaving the profession. The situation is a national emergency that could lead to program closures and reduced access to care. In 2022, expect more health systems to pursue innovative staffing models, partnerships, tech solutions and training opportunities, as well as resources to help caregivers cope, heal and build resiliency.
- Meeting pent-up demand due to deferred care will be the next big challenge following January’s record-breaking surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The surge will continue throughout January as omicron rages across communities, pushing many health systems to crisis levels. But if South Africa is any indicator, U.S. cases could drop off substantially in February. While that’s a welcome forecast, expect little rest for the weary. The nation’s health care providers will quickly need to pivot to respond to non-emergent care that had to be deferred due to COVID-related closures and cancellations.
- To reduce widening health disparities caused by pollution and extreme weather, health systems will take bold action on climate change.
From poor air quality to heat waves and hurricanes, climate change disproportionately affects the health of those who are poor and vulnerable. Recent extreme weather events – and the havoc they wreak, especially on underserved communities – is an ongoing reminder that health equity and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. With health systems contributing 8% of all greenhouse gases, expect them to get serious about reducing – even reversing – carbon emissions from their facilities.
- As the mental health crisis swells, 2022 will be a race to scale up mental health resources to meet the tremendous need.
One of the most serious repercussions of the pandemic is that more Americans than ever are personally struggling with mental health issues. While the stigma around mental health conditions is beginning to fade, the challenge for 2022 will be ramping up access to services quickly enough to meet the need. Digital solutions – such as computerized cognitive behavioral therapy and telebehavioral health – will be key to expanding access to these vital services.
- The health care data revolution continues to build momentum, holding the key to preparedness for the next global contagion.
The rapid development of vaccines and therapeutics is one of the major medical achievements of the pandemic era, and it would not have been possible without the ability to share data quickly. Health systems will continue to collaborate in 2022, keeping the momentum going from last year’s formation of Truveta. Together, they’ll work to share information on a secure, deidentified data platform, making it possible to study new viruses even more quickly, improving readiness for when the next pandemic hits.
- Big tech and other new entrants will continue their quest to disrupt health care, turning up the heat on traditional providers to innovate more quickly.
Last year’s dismantling of Google Health and the closure of Haven Health, founded in part by Amazon, are the latest examples of big tech trying and failing to disrupt the nearly $4 trillion health care sector. But don’t expect that to stop them and other new entrants from attempting more forays. Traditional providers will respond by disrupting themselves with a new distributed model of care, a seamless hybrid of in-person, home and virtual experiences.
- Health systems will ramp up cybersecurity as ransomware attacks on providers remain an imminent threat.
Ransomware is a major security threat for every industry but even more so for health systems, given the central nature of medical records and software in the delivery of safe patient care. In 2021, hospitals were a major target for cybercriminals, and that trend is expected to continue into the New Year. Health systems will prioritize investments in cybersecurity to thwart potential attacks and ensure the safety and security of vital IT systems.
- Cancer will be rendered less of an invisible threat thanks to breakthroughs in precision medicine.
Advances in precision medicine are continuing to change how we think about cancer. With new capabilities in early detection, it’s possible to diagnose cancer well before symptoms appear. Providence, for example, was the first health system in the country to offer GRAIL’s Galleri test, which can detect up to 50 cancers with a single blood draw. With tools like these, cancer will no longer be an invisible threat. Patients and providers will know what they’re dealing with early, giving them the opportunity to partner on care plans to treat, even cure disease.
- With worsening inflation, providers will see the cost of caring for patients rise faster than reimbursement from insurers.
Inflation is affecting health care providers just as it is every other sector of the economy. Global supply chain disruptions and labor shortages are fueling higher costs for everything from medications, medical supplies and health care personnel. Yet, what insurance companies pay providers is not keeping pace. The result: record-breaking profits for the nation’s commercial insurance companies. Meanwhile, nonprofit health systems that once competed with one another will find new ways to collaborate to better serve their communities.
- Making it easier for consumers to shop around for health care services will be a major focus for health systems.
Patients deserve to know what health care costs. That’s why systems will offer more easy-to-use tools to give patients access to the information they want most: what their out-of-pocket cost will be. Through price estimator tools and other resources, patients will have a clear idea of what to expect and the information they need to compare prices and shop around for care.