There is no doubt about the strong impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our world, but what has it done to health care trends? Digital innovation was on a clear trajectory in health care before, but new, emerging patterns have accelerated significantly following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And these aren't the only change we've seen in health care trends. Here's an overview of the various changes that have happened in health care over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Care Technology: Rapid Growth of Telemedicine
Though much progress had been made toward telemedicine options prior to COVID-19, the pandemic drove health care trends forward much further and faster than would otherwise have been expected. Additionally, it brought up some interesting barriers that needed to be dealt with before telemedicine could be effectively leveraged.
For example, would a Tennessee-based provider who lived in Kentucky across state lines from their practice be considered to be practicing medicine in Kentucky if conducting a telemedicine visit from home with their Tennessee-based client? If the patient lived in North Carolina, would the physician be considered to be practicing medicine in North Carolina?
A similar situation involves billing requirements in different states. If the practitioner was used to spending five minutes in the office with the patient, but seven minutes was the minimum for billing an office visit in another state, would they lose out on their billing for that client? These convoluted licensing issues required rapid adjustments to state and federal policies so that telemedicine could be effectively incorporated into existing health care systems.
Health Care Costs: Changes in Health Insurance Coverage
As many companies responded to the pandemic's effect on their revenues, mass layoffs caused many workers to lose their health care coverage, causing serious repercussions for people across the country. However, the chaos didn't stop at the border. Travel restrictions also restricted the movement of health care organizations, preventing vital treatment for those in need in developing countries.
Another area of concern was the swift rise of drug costs. Individuals who were used to their insurance covering their medication suddenly found themselves in a world of EpiPens that cost thousands of dollars each, insulin that cost hundreds of dollars a month, and similar medication expenses. Rising health care costs and for-profit health insurance have long been a contentious debate in the United States, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought urgent light to these issues that remain unsolved in our country today.
Health Care Staffing: Health Care Facility and Staffing Preparedness
Other issues of health care trends have arisen around staffing problems. Long-term care or assisted-living centers saw COVID-19 spread aggressively through the facilities. Family members were concerned for the amount of time their vulnerable loved ones were spending alone while visitors were banned from entering.
As people look for assisted-living alternatives for aging family members, there has been a rise in demand for home health aides, but staffing of home health workers has lagged. This accelerated demand has also increased health care costs and challenged insurance coverages, given the differing costs between in-home health aides versus nursing home care.
Similarly, a number of medical professionals other than doctors—physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and licensed practical nurses—have begun to play a larger role in the care of patients on a regular basis. The drastic shortage of health care workers, initially due to those who were unable to work due to their own health concerns and later due to concerns about the vaccine, has led to shortages across the entire industry.
Racial Disparities in Health Outcomes
The COVID-19 pandemic also exposed strong racial disparities in health in many ways. Some effects of the disease seemed to cause severer symptoms for specific blood types, but also for patients with preexisting conditions, which are often prevalent in minority communities due to lack of health care access.
This lack of adequate coverage can be attributed to a range of factors, including transportation issues, a dearth of available insurance, and poor staffing for health care systems in predominantly minority communities. There is also a funding shortage for payments of copay and deductibles due to poverty and community mistrust of outside health care workers.
Another impact is vaccine hesitancy in the African American community, a hesitation that may be tied to the Tuskegee Institute and its experiments on syphilis patients. In that incident, patients and their families were promised but not provided genuine care and treatment. This break in trust with the minority community has fueled vaccine hesitation in a number of situations, once again with the rush-to-market of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Stay-at-home orders and uncertainty about how and at what rate the COVID-19 illness would spread required many hospitals and health care systems to cancel or postpone a wide range of preventative or wellness exams as well as elective or nonurgent surgeries.
However, as the stay-at-home orders expired and health care systems began to return to a new normal, many patients have continued to postpone these procedures. This is partially due to the rise of new variants that seem to bring the fear of COVID-19 to a new high again and again—first with the Delta and then again with the Omicron variants of the virus—causing patients to stay at home in an abundance of caution.
Overcoming patient fears over the pandemic will take time, effort, energy, and above all else, patience. Adapting to patient needs for reassurance and education about their fears can help return operations to normal, but retaining some aspects of pandemic-based health care, such as telemedicine or house calls, can make it easier for hesitant patients to continue getting the care they need.
Whole-Person Health Care-Related Needs
Another health care trend that grew during the COVID-19 pandemic was the holistic medicine approach. This includes a wide range of specialties, such as nutrition, fitness, mental health and similar areas of expertise that support a patient's overall health. Just as you can't cure cancer while killing the patient, no single disease can be treated without considering the whole person.
There were many mental health challenges that came to a head during the pandemic, so this approach allows health care teams to focus on the entire patient, rather than their individual symptoms, diseases, and injuries. This perspective may lead to a stronger and overall healthier population, as the links of genetics and illnesses become clearer over time.
Given the strong ties between physical and mental health, diet, and exercise to overall well-being, we can no longer ignore the holistic needs of patients as health care trends move us into a new future for the industry as a whole. Taking the entire patient into account is vital to ensuring superior patient outcomes both now and long into the future.
Staying on top of emerging trends in health care is a difficult process in the best of times, but managing a health care organization while trends are shifting during a pandemic can be challenging. Your education and experience will create a strong portion of your ability to shift to meet these changes, allowing you to leverage your organization to outstanding new heights. If you are interested in furthering your education to prepare you for these challenges, University of Minnesota's Health Services Management Bachelor's Degree, Health Services Management Minor, and Health Services Management Certificate can help you get the edge you need to succeed in your career.