It is that time of year again. The time we take stock of all that has happened, and begin to anticipate what else might be coming our way. Despite 2022 being a tumultuous year on multiple fronts, I find myself looking ahead to the new year with cautious optimism. Here are several changes, issues, or spaces I predict will be significant trends in health care in 2023.
COVID-19 Will Continue to Have an Impact – Particularly as Patients (re)Present
Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 seems to be a permanent part of our lives now, and its lingering, often mysterious effects may be with us for the long haul.
The questions many of us have about COVID-19 – how many infections, vaccinations, or boosters may or may not protect against future infection or negative outcomes – will continue to be part of an ongoing debate in the new year. However, what will be more significant is the ways in which our health care system will have to manage the impact of the “COVID pause” on our regular operations and broader patient population.
For the past few years, a whole host of patients with a variety of medical conditions have delayed care (if not ignored it altogether). In 2023, as health care utilization continues to rebound, health care workers will need to care for increasing volumes of patients who may be sicker as a result of this disruption. This will continue to stretch hospital capacity and put pressure on medical professionals who are already facing burnout and workforce shortages.
Mental Health and Well-Being Will Be a Key Point of Focus
At the end of 2021, the New York Times called out the feeling many of us were experiencing during the pandemic by name: languishing. While data clearly shows that mental health conditions were a very significant problem even before the pandemic, a potential silver lining of the COVID-19 experience may be a collective, renewed focus on mental health and its significance in all our lives. Over the next year, greater awareness from employers and the government, coupled with the pursuit of other creative solutions, will hopefully set the deck to make further progress in this important space. I expect to see employers across the U.S., including hospital systems, doubling down on mental health benefits.
“Mobile Medicine” as a Paradigm Will Drive the Future of How We Deliver Health Care
Forrester predicts that up to a quarter of the country’s adult population will be treated for chronic conditions with remote patient monitoring in 2023. While not necessarily the right solution for every patient condition, there is a significant shift underway toward providing more and more patient care in the home.
Doximity’s State of Telemedicine Report shows significant uptake of remote care technology across clinician specialties and career stages, and even shows increasing patient experiences of equivalent, if not superior, quality of care. Several studies have further demonstrated that health care outcomes can be improved through remote care, all while reducing health care costs. Further investment in the adoption of these technologies, as well as commitment to reimbursement, could fundamentally change how we approach health care delivery as a nation.
Mobile medicine is more than just frictionlessly seeking out hair loss pills online. It is about increasing patient access to care, empowering our health care workforce to care for more people with greater efficiency, and providing equivalent, if not superior, care to patients in a safer manner than we have been able to traditionally.
Clinical Trial Design Will Start to Center Health Equity
While COVID-19 showed us the speed at which pharmaceutical manufacturers can bring new therapies like mRNA to market, it also highlighted persisting health care disparities and increasing demands on our health care workers. In 2023, we’ll see more and more health care innovators and pharmaceutical companies leveraging digital technology and remote clinical trials to communicate more effectively with clinicians and ensure their innovations both reflect and reach a broader and more diverse patient population.
"Big Tech" Will Leverage Lessons Learned in Health Care
While “fits and starts” may be the best way to describe big tech and retail giants’ health care plays in 2022, opportunities to improve health care through technology have never been better or more welcome. Expect big tech players like Google, Amazon, Apple, and others to continue their forays into the health care industry with a more tempered and experienced approach. During 2023, Big Tech will apply lessons from past failures and shift their focus from reconstructing “the entire building” to laying down some new “pipes'' for health care – with an emphasis on interoperability, cloud, and search. If future pursuits represent more of a “union” between Big Tech and health care, as opposed to one swooping in and ostensibly solving all of the other’s problems, I believe they will have a much greater chance at success.
"It’s the Economy, Stupid…" – Economic Volatility Will Make Big Waves in Health Care
Even in a tough market, health care remains impressively resilient. However, the economic climate we are facing heading into 2023 could make a big impact in two particular areas. First, we have already seen what might be the beginnings of a big decline in digital health funding. Experts in the field, like Dr. Sachin Jain, CEO of SCAN Group, predict a PE and VC “Feeding Frenzy” in health care – with some big opportunities for well-positioned players.
Further, financial pressures on some private practices and hospitals could set the stage for another round of “Monopoly” as more hospital systems consolidate. Unfortunately, this trend could have some negative consequences for physicians and patients. Physicians could see a reduction in autonomy and influence on patient care – common drivers of burnout – while patients could lose local access to primary care providers and specialists.
Expanded Access to Care Will Be Back Under the Microscope
While it’s hard to predict what razor thin political margins in D.C. might ultimately mean for medicine, it’s clear that very important policies, with significant ramifications for health care, will be considered by our lawmakers. Extending telehealth reimbursement and continuing programs like “Hospital at Home” are just a couple examples of very significant patient access issues that will likely be reviewed by our political leaders in 2023. It is imperative that we watch this space.
As we turn the corner into this new year, our nation’s unique economic and political circumstances will have a huge impact on health care. If we are fortunate enough to do some things right, we could shed much-needed light on mental health and perhaps even make it a societal priority. We might also leverage modern technologies to shift more health care to the comfort of patients’ homes, reserving limited hospital space for patients who need it and potentially providing our health care system some much needed financial savings – all while empowering our nation’s medical providers to do even more good. One can dream. As I said, I enter this new year cautiously optimistic.
Dr. Amit Phull is the Medical Director and SVP of Strategy at Doximity.
Illustration by Diana Connolly