December 03, 2020
2020 was an extraordinary year, but not in the ways that any of us anticipated. Tremendous promise and opportunity await us in 2021.
Some trends that we are watching and working on as the new year unfolds have been priorities for member companies and are the subjects of increased focus.
Rethink of Health Care Delivery to Continue
The pandemic accelerated several changes in health care and has presented an opportunity to make them permanent. Expanding virtual care delivery, moving lower acuity care out of the hospital, and monitoring patients with chronic conditions in the home are a few examples. The safety of patients and the need to free up doctors and hospital beds to treat patients with COVID-19 and other serious illnesses forced providers and patients alike to reconsider what actually needs to be provided in the hospital and, for that matter, in person. Though employers and plans may have momentarily slowed expansion of alternative payment and delivery models in 2020 due to pandemic-related priorities, we expect that many will redouble efforts to transform care in 2021 to drive improvements in quality and value, and to capitalize on the opportunities exposed and fueled by the pandemic.
Evaluating the Explosion of Virtual Care
Virtual care offerings proliferated in 2020 and are expected to continue to grow in 2021. Not only the volume and types of services, but their availability through telehealth platforms and providers, will offer patients more virtual options. Plans and providers offer virtual care options for minor, acute care and mental health, and many are extending them to weight management, care management for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prenatal care, and musculoskeletal care management/physical therapy. We expect that 2021 will bring more focus on evaluating the quality, outcomes, effectiveness, patient experience and cost of virtual care options and innovations. Evaluation will also encompass the appropriateness of virtual vs. in-person care for specific services, the impact on health equity, the assessment of virtual delivery through the health plan vs. third parties and the extent of integration of virtual care into overall care.
Mental Health and Emotional Well-being at the Forefront
The full spectrum of emotional, behavioral and mental health is even more front and center as employees look to their employers for support during challenging times. Employers have a heightened focus on stress and anxiety, loneliness, addiction, depression and serious mental illness. They are expanding access through virtual counseling and network expansion, training managers and peers, integrating EAP and mental health benefits, and stepping up evaluation of quality. Successful approaches normalize mental health care and put brain health on par with other medical conditions. We expect novel approaches to address mental health and emotional well-being will gain ground in 2021 in response to the pandemic and the changes in work and life that have affected virtually everyone.
Addressing Gaps in Health Equity
Existing disparities in health care by race, ethnicity, geography, and other factors have been magnified during the pandemic. These gaps manifest themselves in differences in health conditions, emotional well-being, health outcomes and mortality. Access to convenient transportation, healthy food, adequate housing, good jobs and other environmental factors also play a role. In 2021 we expect the health care ecosystem, including providers, suppliers and payers, will make serious efforts to examine and address gaps in health equity while mitigating harmful impacts of social determinants of health.
Adapting to Well-being Needs of a Changing Workforce
The pandemic has accelerated the challenges of supporting employees in times of transition. On top of changes due to economic shifts, increased automation, and the expectations of younger entrants to the workforce, the pandemic has also affected the nature, conditions and place of work for many. Those living alone may struggle with social connection, while work-life balance is made more challenging for employees juggling childcare, virtual school or caregiving in the home. Essential workers must adapt to changes in the workplace to enhance safety as they struggle to meet increased demand for their time and services while those in some hard-hit industries adjust to uncertainty. In 2021, we expect that employers will continue to demonstrate the flexibility they have shown throughout the pandemic to support employees’ well-being and mental health needs and bolster their resiliency, including through leave, remote work, and other benefits.