Bt Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH President & CEO, Amwell
One of the best parts of my role as co-founder of Amwell is having the privilege to talk with healthcare leaders from across the globe. During my visits to their offices or at events like HLTH, we’ve had candid conversations about their priorities for 2024 and how they envision their organizations providing healthcare in the next few years.
Despite investing in different areas, these leaders share an understanding that change isn’t coming – it's already here. They know that infusing technology into care is no longer about being progressive or forward-thinking. It’s about survival.
With the awareness that healthcare transformation is happening now, these are four areas leaders say are top-of-mind in the coming year as they work to advance their digital agendas.
1. Integrating physical, digital and automated care into a single, gratifying patient experience
Before the pandemic, many saw telehealth as a luxury. Clinicians have traditionally provided healthcare in a building, so telehealth wasn’t something they had to rely on. But that’s no longer the case. Digital is now part of how we experience healthcare.
Hybrid care weaves in-person, digital and automated care throughout the patient's journey. It’s more than videoconferencing or the ability to make an appointment online. Hybrid is a radical transformation of the care experience. It changes where care happens and how payers and providers surround patients.
Care woven with technology is the industry’s future. And in the coming year, providers are preparing for this by exploring virtual and automated care delivery options. These leaders know that if they take a “wait-and-see" approach to embracing the shift to hybrid, they risk being marginalized or left behind.
2. Giving nurses a lifeline
Today, about 1 million registered nurses in the U.S. are older than 50, meaning one-third of the workforce could reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile, U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 92,000 qualified applicants in 2021 due to budget constraints and a lack of faculty, clinical sites and classroom space.
Beyond the aging workforce and shortage of next-generation talent, nurses are leaving the profession in droves due to burnout, increased caseloads and poor work-life balance. An MIT study found that the U.S. healthcare system could see a shortfall of up to 450,000 nurses by 2025 – 20% fewer nurses than we need for current patient demand.
The statistics paint a troubling picture of what could happen if we don’t provide nurses with much-needed relief. Healthcare leaders are turning to virtual nursing to ease the strain on this critical member of the care team.
Virtual nursing platforms support admissions and discharges, remote rounding and medication reconciliation, giving nurses the freedom to practice at the top of their licenses. The technology can help ease burnout, reinvigorate the pipeline of tomorrow's clinical caretakers, and ensure that future nursing satisfaction scores never return to today’s levels.
3. Solidifying the promise, value and effort involved in realizing virtual primary care
Perhaps the most pervasive topic on the minds of healthcare leaders heading into 2024 is virtual primary care. The landscape is changing thanks to many non-traditional entrants, such as payers and health care retail giants. This blurring of lines will have a ripple effect for many legacy providers, including shifting power balances, changing referral sources and higher patient attrition rates.
Maintaining a leading role will require legacy providers to embrace the notion that caring for a patient doesn’t require an in-person assessment like putting a stethoscope on their chest. They’ll also have to balance their traditional primary care offering with a virtual option to keep attracting and retaining patients. As healthcare leaders look to 2024 and beyond, though, they know that virtual primary care is just the start. With an aging population and the increasing demand for healthcare services, virtual specialty care isn’t far behind.
4. Using technology to move the needle on the availability of behavioral health
The shortage of behavioral health specialists is getting worse, not better – and so is the proportion of people who need mental health services:
- 60% of Americans don’t have a mental health professional in their county.
- More than 40% of behavioral health professionals plan to retire in the next decade.
- In the U.S. alone, 50 million people say they’re suffering from a mental health condition.
Like the nursing labor crisis, behavioral health professionals can't keep pace with the growing demand for their services.
More payers and employers are recognizing the power of technology to ease today’s behavioral health crisis. With interactive tools, videos, virtual coaching and live support, they’re giving members access to the care they need and bolstering the mental wellness of entire communities.
In recent years, our society has broken down the stigmas that surround mental health. In 2024, more payers and employers are following suit, using technology to break down the remaining barriers to behavioral health care access and support.
Continuing to prioritize patients and providers
While their digital agendas for 2024 may differ, there’s a shared understanding among healthcare leaders that change isn’t coming, it’s already here. And whether they’re focused on all or just one of the priorities I discussed, their commitment to blending care with technology is driven by a common cause – patients and providers.
Technology can be there for patients when clinicians can’t. In between visits, during follow-up appointments or even after discharge. And for providers, technology can step up when the workload, physical or mental demands of the job start to overwhelm.
As these leaders envision how their organizations will provide healthcare in 2024 and beyond, I know they’ll continue to prioritize caring for those we serve – and those who do the caring.