The last two years have been significantly challenging for healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many deficiencies in healthcare systems around the world. Apart from the surge of patients infected with COVID-19, the crisis and its management revealed several inherent weaknesses in this industry.
Some of the major challenges facing the healthcare industry in 2021 include:
- Telehealth and virtual care: Telehealth has been around for a long time but was never the mainstream method of delivery care. The general sentiment has always been that the most productive patient-physician relationship can only be established with a face-to-face meeting. Also, many diseases require a physical exam which is an important reason why telemedicine remained a last-resort option. However, things have changed drastically during the pandemic, and the true value and importance of telehealth have been realized. Virtual care allows healthcare workers to assess patients across geographical borders and prevents the transmission of infection to healthcare staff. Except for emergencies, telehealth and virtual care can be used effectively for most chronic disorders. It saves time and money and shortens the time needed to see a healthcare worker. While telehealth has been used excessively during the last year, developing it even further to provide more efficient care will remain an important challenge for healthcare in 2021.
- Data security: The healthcare industry has faced several hacking incidents in recent years. There have even been reports of holding healthcare institutions hostage until a ransom is paid. A large majority of healthcare data is stored on cloud platforms, and the need for ongoing security and vigilance is mandatory. Healthcare institutions have introduced several restrictions on data accessibility. Log-ins are constantly monitored, and random scanning of patient medical records is prohibited. However, with the rapid growth of digital healthcare and the use of online care platforms, there is now a heightened risk of data breaches. Simply adding layers of security is no longer enough to protect the data. There is also a need to build strong firewalls, use HIPAA-compliant email services for communication with patients, and multilevel authentication to decrease the risk of hacking. Data protection and cybersecurity continues to be an important issue in healthcare and will remain a challenge this year.
- Streamlining billing and administrative processes: One of the biggest problems with paper billing is fraud. Over the years, there have been several fraudulent billing cases that have resulted in significant financial loss. However, since the introduction of electronic medical records and billing, the prevalence of fraud in healthcare has decreased. Medicare and several insurers employ state-of-the-art analytics to detect deviations in billing to spot fraud. Security professionals constantly watch over the billing practices of healthcare. Many healthcare institutions and clinics are now streamlining their payment processing. Healthcare providers are also initiating friendlier billing statements so that patients can view, understand and pay their bills online. However, this is still a work in progress. Installing newer payment options comes at a cost for medical practices. Besides setting up the payment infrastructure, clinics also need to have reasonable billing terms with each payment processor. Medical practices have to absorb the cost of purchasing new technology. All medical providers must also abide by HIPAA rules and have to ensure payment processing platforms and systems are fully compliant. This is an ongoing challenge.
- Leadership to shape the future of healthcare: If there is one thing that has been revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the fact that there is a serious lack of effective leadership in healthcare. During the pandemic, healthcare systems faced shortages of beds and medical supplies, ventilators, and healthcare staff. Clearly, this industry needs a new breed of leaders who not only have the ability to manage a healthcare facility but also have the ability to understand global health shifts and crisis management. Modern healthcare leaders will need to continually evolve and transform existing systems to become more efficient and productive. These leaders need to acquire the right academic qualification, training and skills to make a difference in healthcare and take this sector to new heights.
- Healthcare forecasting for an uncertain 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how poorly the medical community was at forecasting the future. Most healthcare workers had no idea that coronavirus would paralyze the entire workforce within six months and compromise global healthcare systems. Many hospitals were faced with more patients than they could handle. Almost every hospital had shortages of essentials like masks, personal protective equipment, and even sanitizers. Clearly, the healthcare industry had become complacent. This will have to change. There is a need for a better forecasting system to prevent a similar crisis in future. Experts suggest that healthcare institutions should set improved sightlines to detect any waves of infectious disease while understanding consumer behavior, the impact on the economy, and the overall health of the public. Healthcare systems can no longer only look at the trends over the past 30 days to determine the long-term outlook. That concept no longer works. Forecasting for the future has to improve, and that will be another important challenge for this industry.
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