By Suzy McCoy
Virtually all industries have been forced to adapt to protocols determined in response to COVID-19 - but it’s safe to say none has likely been more strained and more quickly revolutionized than the healthcare industry. Primary care physicians have altered the way they interact with patients, dwindling ICU capacity across the country has stressed doctors and nurses and - of significant note - a vaccine has been developed in record time.
Even once the pandemic is over, everlasting changes in the United States healthcare system may likely remain. Here’s what we could expect to see changing in the healthcare industry in 2021 and beyond.
Change #1: Access to Healthcare
The onset of COVID-19 revealed our deep dependence on employer-sponsored health insurance. One survey showed that of individuals who lost their job or had a partner who lost their job due to the pandemic, two out of five lost health insurance coverage which they had through that job.1 Although the Affordable Care Act contains provisions to protect those who lose employer-sponsored insurance, federal efforts have not capitalized on this.2 In 2021, we could expect to see policy initiatives that may shift how we access healthcare.
Biden’s Healthcare Plan
President-elect Joe Biden plans to protect the Affordable Care Act, a policy which the current administration has been attempting to repeal. In his platform, Biden states that he will offer a public health insurance option, lower premiums and expand health insurance to include lower-income populations.3 Although contingent on the actions of Congress, it’s possible we’ll see our healthcare system start to shift away from dependence on employer-sponsored insurance to align with these goals.
Change #2: Public Health and Disparities in Healthcare
The pandemic unveiled many disparities in healthcare access, particularly racial and ethnic inequalities. Communities of color are more severely impacted by COVID-19, with disproportionately black counties in the U.S. accounting for more than half of COVID-19 cases and deaths.2
These disparities were pre-existing, shown through less healthcare coverage and worse health outcomes. The pandemic, however, brought them to light and started a conversation. Looking towards 2021, we can expect this conversation to continue. There will likely be a renewed focus on public health and increased efforts to diminish disparities in healthcare, also a component of Biden’s healthcare platform.
Change #3: Telemedicine
In the last week of March 2020, there was a 154 percent increase in telehealth visits.5 Pandemic regulations led many healthcare workers to care for patients in new ways, with the emergence of telemedicine being the most prominent.
Telemedicine was a growing innovation before COVID-19 and flourished as a result. In 2021, it’s probable that we’ll see telemedicine growing more integrated into the healthcare landscape, particularly hospitals. This could greatly benefit rural hospitals without specialists on-site in addition to reducing hospital costs and providing care to more patients.
Change #4: Supply Chain Management
Particularly during the onset of the pandemic, hospital supply chains were overwhelmed. As a result, supplies such as personal protective equipment and ventilators were lacking.6 While this supply chain management has gotten better over time, there are still improvements to be made.
In 2021 we’ll likely see new emerging strategies of hospital supply chain management. These changes will quicken and automate supply distribution. Many, for instance, are advocating to reduce our dependence on foreign manufacturers for medical supplies.
As 2021 begins, much of this year is still a mystery. Nonetheless, the pandemic has uncovered both the flaws and strengths of our current healthcare system. No matter the timeline of the pandemic, we can expect the healthcare industry to continue changing and new policies to develop.
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