Changes in health care happen with each administration, each economic upturn or downturn, and with the demographics of the nation. Here are six trends in health care to watch if you’re in the field or considering a health care career:
1. Changes in the Aftermath of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise—the health care industry included. The response to it is likely to drive long-term changes. Among these:
The pandemic has exposed the antiquated nature of public health data systems and technologies, according to the Brookings Institution. Instead of digital technology, our public health system relies on dated methods such as manual data entry and faxed forms. Change may mean a total overhaul of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s systems and data collection methods to better track the spread of disease and efforts to fight it.
There has also been an increased demand for data analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation to improve the efficiency and quality of care.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Telehealth services during the pandemic expanded access to care for those under isolation, reduced disease exposure for staff and patients, preserved scarce supplies of personal protective equipment, and reduced patient demand on facilities. The success of these changes, defined by quality outcomes, patient satisfaction, lower costs, and greater access to care, are likely to guide telehealth and telemedicine policy changes and public health guidance.
>> Learn More: Telehealth Guide for Health Care Administrators and Office Managers
Vaccines and Medical Supplies
COVID-19 exposed limitations in U.S. medical supplies and vaccines due to an overreliance on overseas suppliers. Face masks, ventilators, and other equipment were in short supply, but new initiatives stepped up manufacturing for domestic needs. The Food and Drug Administration is now prioritizing U.S. medical supply chain resilience and advanced domestic manufacturing of drugs, biological products, and medical devices.
Growth and Costs
COVID-19 has impacted the world economy, causing a contraction of 3.5% in 2020, according to the Brookings Institution. Although world economies are starting to rebound, the overall shock is likely to be long-lasting and will continue to be a factor in health spending.
Another consequence of smaller health care groups failing to survive financial losses has been mergers and acquisitions led by larger health systems. Other changes, such as increased provider partnerships with big-box stores and pharmaceutical chains, have increased access to care and lowered costs for consumers.
2. Health Care Reform
While today’s reform debates are mostly centered on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the subsequent efforts to change it, health care reform has long been a goal of administrations on both sides of the aisle. A brief history on the evolution of health care reform includes:
- President Franklin Roosevelt tried and failed to get universal health care passed during his presidency.
- President Harry Truman proposed universal health care in 1945, but it failed to pass Congress.
- President Lyndon Johnson created Medicaid and Medicare in 1965.
- President Richard Nixon proposed universal health care in 1974; presidential candidate Jimmy Carter did the same on the campaign trail.
- President Bill Clinton completed a universal health care plan, but it never became law.
After President Barack Obama passed the ACA, President Donald Trump removed some of its provisions, such as the individual mandate to carry insurance and the subsequent tax penalty for failing to do so.
President Joe Biden has indicated his intention to shore up the ACA and restore some of the cuts Trump made.
Health care reform is currently focused on value-based care, patient-centered care, care coordination, affordable coverage, transparency, and greater access to care for the uninsured and underinsured. These reforms and others will continue to impact current and future health care professionals.
3. Increasing Prevalence of Chronic Health Conditions
Despite increased knowledge, technology, and access to health care, Americans are not as healthy as we used to be.
Every year since 1999, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) conducts a study of Americans called the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. According to a 2020 fact sheet published by the NCHS:
- Hypertension continues to be a public health challenge in this country
- More than 42% of U.S. adults were obese in 2017–2018
- Just over 11% of U.S adults had high cholesterol from 2015–2018
These factors increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and certain cancers, the NCHS reports. Experts agree that the causes of our declining health are related to a variety of factors including poor eating habits, genetics, lack of physical activity (partly due to television, smartphones, tablets, and computers), poor sleep habits, and the inability to afford healthy food.
The health care community can expect to see increasing numbers of patients developing and living with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
4. The Aging of the U.S. Population
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that health care occupations will grow by 15% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. One of the main reasons for this is the aging of the baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964).
The Pew Research Center states millennials overtook baby boomers in 2019 as the largest living population group. However, at their peak in 1999, baby boomers were nearly 79 million strong, dominating society in terms of numbers, buying power, and trends. When they were in their 30s, boomers changed the face of parenting; in their 40s and 50s, they changed the workplace; now in their 60s and 70s, their needs are influencing retirement and health care trends.
Baby boomer executives are also retiring at a high rate, creating a demand for emerging leaders to replace them and the need for health care organizations to be strategic in leadership succession planning.
This increase in the number of older people is expected to have a significant impact on health care financing and delivery, as well as exacerbate shortages in eldercare and nursing. “The health care industry is decidedly not adequately prepared,” writes Joel Landau, co-founder of The Allure Group, a company that works to save and rehabilitate failing nursing homes, for CNBC. “According to The New York Times, ‘we already lack sufficient numbers of geriatricians and other professionals—nurses, social workers, pharmacists, aides—trained to care for the elderly, and the shortage is projected to increase.’”
5. The Aging of the Nursing Population
Nurses in the baby boomer generation are retiring in large numbers. The 2019 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses found that 86% of baby boomer nurses plan to retire by 2024.
Making the problem worse is a shortage of nursing school faculty, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The AMN survey indicated 52% of nurses say the shortage has gotten worse.
Nursing schools also lack the number of faculty needed to meet rising demand—the American Nurses Association estimates that by 2022, 1.1 million new nurses will be needed.
6. Employee Satisfaction and Safety
According to a study by Applied Ergonomics, employee satisfaction and safety have a huge impact on engagement and turnover.
Health care leaders are challenged with prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; work schedule flexibility (remote options); and employee physical and mental health programs.
Will You Join the Health Care Industry?
If you are considering a future in the health care industry, explore Purdue University Global. We are a public university that enables you to pursue a degree online while continuing to work and meet other life obligations. Learn more about our online nursing programs or our online health care and health sciences programs.