In a time where Omicron continues to wreak havoc in the U.S. and around the world, inflation is on the rise and staffing shortages keep hospital administrators up at night, it can be hard to focus on the strides our industry has made. Advancements in behavioral health, telehealth services and elimination of healthcare disparities (particularly among women and minority groups) were the key topics of discussion at Nashville Health Care Council’s 2022 Council Panel: Wall Street’s View on Prospects for the Health Care Industry held on January 18th in Nashville, Tennessee.

Panelists at this year’s event included:

Read on to hear their top takeaways for the year ahead.

Takeaway #1: Home is Where the Health Is

Pre-pandemic, home health was in its infancy. Today, nearly two years in, adoption to home health particularly in the acute care space is at an all-time high. There are many reasons for this. From the patient’s perspective, home health offers advantages such as convenience, comfort and safety. Home health is also very personalized and can be catered to the individual patient. From the provider POV, home health frees up healthcare workers on site to tend to other patients, and often prevents unnecessary trips to the hospital which in turn saves money.

A recent Forbes article shone a light on a William Blair survey in which 81% of physicians responsible for discharge planning said they preferred to refer patients to a home health agency verses a skilled nursing or rehab facility. This percentage was up significantly compared to pre-pandemic days.

The stock market is also reflective of the success of home health, particularly when compared to value-based care companies, which panelists cited were “underperforming.”  Labcorp, known for their home health care Lab-in-a-Box blood sampling kits, was up 55.6% YTD as of a December 22nd report published by Nasdaq.

Takeaway #2: Value-Based Care is Here to Stay

The importance of value-based care and management of comorbidities, especially in underserved populations, cannot be overstated. While the necessity for urgent care and emergency services have taken a front seat during the ongoing pandemic, it doesn’t underscore the fact that VBC is here to stay.

According to the panelists, many VBC providers are taking additional financial risk to meet the requests of special populations and ensure care delivery needs are met. Major players like Humana added VBC offerings to their repertoire. In a 2021 survey conducted by Numerof & Associates, half of respondents said that their organizations offer help with transportation, food, and nutrition, and 30% provide housing or community development support. Community organizations play a big role in advancing these efforts.

A nagging concern for VBC is the financial repercussion. Panelists worry that the ongoing pandemic makes value-based contracts less appealing, however one could also argue that fee-for-service care models lead to outrageous costs. One approach raised by the panelists is to consider a lower-cost VBC model that doesn’t require as much risk on the front-end, but still allows physicians to work in the same setting with the same patient. Time will tell.

Takeaway #3: All Eyes on Technology

Technology is still a major player in the fight for a more modernized healthcare infrastructure. Telemedicine, patient portals and wearable devices are just some of the ways tech has enabled healthcare to go farther, especially in the past two years. Each of these mediums help to close the gap between patient and provider, allowing for convenience and access to data. It also lifts the burden of overwhelmed hospital staff who are struggling to balance the dance of keeping high-risk patients well while not neglecting their less-risky patients who still need preventative care.

Panelists are closely watching the growing number of technology company acquisitions in the healthcare space and predict to see more in 2022. These include Oracle’s recent announcement to acquire Cerner; UnitedHealth’s purchase of Change Healthcare and Microsoft’s acquisition of Nuance.

Takeaway #4: COVID, Inflation & Staffing, Oh My!

We can’t close out a conversation on 2022 predictions without overlooking the 800-pound gorilla in the room—COVID. As the newest strain is still making waves across the country, panelists are already looking ahead to the long-term effects of the virus on the health care industry. In addition to the obvious (and maybe not so obvious) health effects known as Long COVID, panelists will be looking at the financial repercussions of the virus on the U.S. health economy.

According to a fall article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 29 million uninsured Americans and 33% of households reported insufficient savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. These stats are troubling given that the average COVID-19 hospitalization is estimated to cost anywhere from $38,000 to $73,000. The onus will fall on providers to practice patience and flexibility when it comes to patient payments, especially as the cost of care increases and the value of a dollar decreases.

Another area that necessitates flexibility is what is being referred to as “The Great Resignation,” with many nurses leaving the acute care setting to pursue traveling nursing and other means for income. Trainees are being promoted and, in some cases, high school and college age students are being brought in to help with administrative work to help offset the labor gaps. This means more and more that hospitals will have to be creative in their efforts to maintain retention with current staff members and incentivize new hires with benefit packages (i.e., 4-day work weeks, sign-on bonuses, paid time off, etc.).

In Conclusion

It’s no question that the healthcare industry has its work cut out in 2022, however one factor remains true: people will never be replaced by systems of automation. While technological advancements in care delivery, patient finance, and other areas of health are important, they will never overpower the invaluable connections that people have when they work together for a common goal. As we enter another year, may we remember to offer the kind of care and compassion that we wish to receive ourselves.

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