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Healthcare Leaders Reflect on 2020, Look Ahead to 2021

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   December 23, 2020

Four healthcare leaders spoke with HealthLeaders about their thoughts on 2020 and their predictions for 2021.

In a year of upheaval like 2020, it can be hard to look back and see many positives.

The coronavirus has upended the conventional way of living and thinking, with an acute effect on the healthcare industry.

However, even in the dimmest moments of a crisis, opportunities for innovation and improvement emerge as leaders buckle down and forge a way forward.

With this in mind, HealthLeaders interviewed four healthcare leaders for their reflections on 2020 and their predictions for 2021.

Below are their insights on the year that was and the year ahead.

Matt Hawkins, CEO of Waystar: 

"I do think one of the things that have emerged from 2020 is that our healthcare supply process and supply chain, if you will, sometimes have limited access. 2020 has exposed all of these things and many more; so, while there's still a fair amount of uncertainty that looms ahead of us, 2020 has also enlightened providers and healthcare professionals at large about how they can take advantage of technologies that offer hope, improvement, and substantial long-term savings."

"I'm really excited; I do think going into 2021 that we are learning that digital health is here to stay, and in particular, this idea that digital health platforms can connect providers to patients, or providers to payers, or to other constituents in healthcare. Those are here to stay."

Jay Sultan, vice president of healthcare strategy at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a global data and analytics company based in Alpharetta, Georgia:

"COVID-19 shows how central healthcare is to all of our lives."

"I think there are a lot of consequences that come out of [the pandemic.] I'm obviously concerned about what I think of as the undertreated, underdiagnosed population out there. In the last few months, we've done some research where we found a tremendous falloff in the number of patients being diagnosed with breast cancer. I've seen other research talking about a falloff on childhood immunizations, raising the fear that we will have conquered childhood maladies brought back up now in our schools because of [children going] X number of months not getting basic vaccinations." 

"I also think that, politically, it's very likely we're going to have a major debate in this country about the government's role in requiring vaccinations in the future. I think that's going to be a headline topic for months and months next year. Obviously, the schools have a history of mandating inoculations. I wouldn't be surprised to see that [the COVID vaccines] get mandated. But what about employers? What about federal employees? What about the military? What about the guy who wants to go and eat in a restaurant?"

"We're going to continue to live in a world that we've never lived in before. In 2021, the details will be different; we'll be talking about, 'What does it mean to prove that I'm safe?'"

David Shelton, CEO of PatientMatters, LLC, a patient financial services company based in Orlando:

"There are three things that we see a lot from our perspective: number one, at the top of everybody's mind, are the hospital losses this year exceeding 320 billion, and I'm sure that that's a conservative number." 

"Some of the things that I'm paying close attention to is post-pandemic, we certainly expect to see more hospital consolidation, especially as those financially struggling organizations fall further behind than they already were. I think more consolidation leads to higher healthcare prices for private insurance and the things that go along with that. We've been watching pretty closely with the M&A activity that's taking place, and we haven't seen it really hit yet. But we've heard enough of the rumblings to know that that is just a matter of time and I would expect it next year. We'll see that consolidation piece that everybody talks about be a lot more active and come to fruition."

"Secondly, the telehealth businesses exploded this year, [especially with] patients that are looking for healthcare services and still trying to social distance amid that fear many people have about going into a hospital. A lot of the healthcare organizations see virtual care nearly as a lifeline, especially those facilities that were not engaged in virtual care before. So, we're seeing a lot of hospitals that might've put it as a secondary item on their checklist and have now moved the virtual piece up to the front and give them opportunities to be more competitive in their markets."

"The ways to incorporate payment solutions into [virtual care] and the challenges have been interesting. One of the challenges that we've seen is that people have forgotten that although everybody's got a smartphone, not everybody has the ability to use it, connect with the apps, have that kind of success. From the telehealth perspective, we're watching a lot of people this year and next year engaging in it and jumping into that [space] but also doing a lot of communication with the patient base on how those things are used. The more successful hospitals have staff available to help get people up to speed on the technology, the apps, and some of the things they're adding to the computer so people can do more self-help with telehealth. It reminds me that the ultimate key to success is patient acceptance; not necessarily the healthcare providers offering a potential solution, but how do you get your patients to accept that?"

"The third thing that I think this year has shown us is that in the past, healthcare has been slow to adapt to remote work solutions. Hesitancy around HIPAA, restrictive billing and collection protocols, legal constraints, have all been barriers and those obstacles have been pushed back as more hospital offices have incorporated remote workers. As hospitals [implement] the remote-worker piece, I think there are solutions that hospitals maybe have been hesitant to use before, like taking certain departments and be able to use a third-party to pick up some cost efficiencies and labor savings. This year, [executives] started to pay attention to that hospital management and look for ways to make savings."

Stephen Parodi, MD, chairman of the Council of Accountable Physician Practices:

"The pandemic showed us that investments made by integrated health-care systems paid off. These organized groups were able to easily pivot to remote care, identify high-risk patients for special treatment, and deliver care in alternative settings — especially via telemedicine. Medical groups experienced in risk-based, capitated, or pay-for-value arrangements were better equipped to work in teams, solve problems quickly, and avoid the financial devastation that hit practices which rely primarily on fee-for-service revenue."

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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