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It’s been a challenging year for everybody, not least of all, those in the healthcare industry. Since we speak to hospital administrators across the country every day, we thought we could share our insights into the major tends we’ve observed in 2020 and our thoughts on where they are headed moving into 2021.

A year ago, who would’ve imagined what 2020 held in store for so many people? The year started with whispers of a new virus spreading in China and less than three months into the New Year, the Wuhan virus was spreading through America, and the world, with a speed and virulence not seen in nearly a century.

Lockdowns started in New York and California, and soon became a norm across the country. The panic set in quickly as we collectively realized how unprepared we were for such a pandemic. Hospitals in metropolitan areas were reaching capacity; critical PPE supplies were nowhere to be found, and asymptomatic carriers were spreading an unknown virus to the most vulnerable in our society.

Nearly a year has passed since we faced this rude awakening, and COVID is still on an unabated rampage, yet things are looking up. As country, we are more prepared now than we were a year ago. We have a much better understanding of what we are up against, and a vaccine with a reported 95% efficacy is underway. While still not a full return to normal, many people are getting back to their lives, back to their jobs and settling in to celebrate the holidays with their family, although many will be opening presents via video calls this Christmas morning.

These are the major trends that we have observed in 2020 that will continue to affect healthcare operations moving into 2021.

#1 The Need for Digital Evolution, from Patient Records to Telehealth Visits

On the digital front, it’s been said that organizations have been forced to evolve six years in a matter of only six months. Paper-based systems; ranging from patient records, billing information and even employee record keeping became obsolete nearly overnight. In midst of uncertainty, lower patient revenue, and employees working remotely, struggling to migrate operations to cloud-based system has been a challenge for many in the healthcare space.

Based on CDC research, 20% of all healthcare visits in 2020 were conducted virtually, with that number increasing as the year progressed. Telehealth offers benefits to both patients and practitioners, as more patients can be seen in a shorter amount of time and the risk of spreading contagions is reduced.

This trend towards remote healthcare is not going away, and as more and more patients seek virtual appointments, it’s been reported that up to 87% plan to continue using telehealth services after the pandemic subsides.

Implementing digital strategies across all aspects of operations will continue into the foreseeable future, and will be defining feature of healthcare in 2021. The long-term impacts of digital healthcare solutions will make organizations leaner, more efficient and improve patient access to critical healthcare, especially in rural and underserved areas.

The rise in telehealth also means increased competition from national providers. If you are a smaller organization or serve a rural community, your patients may be seeking healthcare services from national companies. If you don’t have a strong telehealth service in place, you’re leaving opportunities on the table for rival organizations and should double down on your efforts to step up your digital game.

#2 Surge in Demand for Mental Health Practitioners

Without a doubt, the most notable trend of 2020 has been the dramatic increase in need for mental services needs across America. The effect of unemployment, social isolation, and the fears of COVID have exacerbated existing trends towards addition, depression, self-harm and suicide.

While mental health professionals were in short supply prior to 2020, the surge in demand as a result of the pandemic has been insurmountable for many. Many rural healthcare organizations, including Critical Access Hospitals and FQHCs are in the process of offering new behavioral health services because the community needs these services unlike ever before. We hear from administrators every day that they want to bring in additional psyche practitioners, but have a difficult time recruiting them because of limited supply, and fierce competition.

We’ve worked with many healthcare providers who are seeking to start or expand behavioral health clinics and have developed strategies to recruit and retain psyche practitioners. Let us know if you are planning on expanding your mental health services in 2021, and we can help you build your practice by recruiting experienced mental health professionals.

#3 Disruptions in Supply & Demand for Healthcare Workers

Due to many factors stemming from COVID, whether by government policy, or patient choice, non-urgent patient counts have been down across the board. Many organizations have been forced to cut hours or furlough providers until patient counts normalize. Based on our conversations with hospital administrators, this trend is reversing for now, as both flu and COVID patient counts are increasing.

We expect patient non-urgent patient counts to increase throughout 2021, thanks largely to widespread vaccine delivery promised in Q1. Many patients delayed hospital visits for routine visits and elective procedures during 2020 out of fear of COVID infection. As time has passed, some of these conditions have advanced to the point where treatment is becoming a necessity. Increasing medical urgency and decreased risk of COVID transmission will likely increase patient count in 2021 and create demand for more practitioners.

If you are expanding your services this coming year, now is a great time to begin recruiting as there are many providers looking for practice opportunities and many healthcare organizations have not started aggressive recruiting yet. As they say, early bird gets the worm, and that’s especially important for rural providers and hospitals with hard-to-fill positions.

Conclusion

We’d like to extend our deepest gratitude for everybody in the healthcare industry for their tireless efforts to combat this pandemic and to keep out communities safe. You are all truly national heroes and we wish you nothing but the best during this difficult year. As the holidays approach, we’d like to encourage everybody to stay safe and treasure every moment with your loved ones, whether in person or online. Its times like these that make us realize what’s important in life, so love more, give more and wash your hands!

Best Wishes & Merry Christmas,

~National Medical Services