There’s no denying that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall health care system is still recovering. Stealth Health Tech CEO Aaron Kull took a long, hard look at the state of the sector today, and zeroed in on some key areas that will need a focus for the future of the industry.
An experienced operator and innovator — his experience as a leader spanning entrenched and emerging issues — predicts that staffing shortages, changes in health care coverage, and health equity, will be some of the critical focus areas for the future of health care.
“Post-pandemic, every health care organization has realized the impact of effective community and population health management. All providers are facing a two-sided challenge: trying to more effectively care for their communities at large, while experiencing increasingly challenging circumstances driven by decreasing reimbursement rates, staffing shortages, and a growing population of people that need care in different means and ways,” Kull observed. “Appointment availability and actual shortages of nursing staff — and certain types of doctors and specialists — is a big concern for most organizations and communities. As Medicaid and managed Medicaid/Medicare Advantage programs expand in various states, expectations around provider coverage will also increase, creating a supply and demand imbalance. Additionally, expected cuts in medicare reimbursement rates and increasingly tough contractual terms with commercial insurers is compounding the problem. Some organizations are solving this through cost cutting efforts, outsourcing certain clinical services and internal/administrative functions, which creates a change in experience and also hits the bottom line.”
Kull is on target. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that by 2034, there will be a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians. Based on recent studies more than 100,000 have left the workforce since the Pandemic and another 800,000 may leave the workforce in the next 4 years. And the World Health Organization warns there could be a staggering shortage of 10 million health care professionals globally by 2030.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the deepest disparities in health and access to health care services and exposed vulnerabilities in the health care system,” said David J. Skorton, M.D., AAMC president and CEO. “The pandemic also has underscored the vital role that physicians and other health care providers play in our nation’s health care infrastructure and the need to ensure we have enough physicians to meet America’s needs.”
Aaron Kull: ‘Create a Healthy Overall Population’
Health equity is an area that came sharply into focus during the pandemic. Communities and populations that were underserved — or had other factors that put them more at risk from a social determinant of health standpoint — experienced significantly higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death. It made it clear that health equity and ensuring all corners of the population have access to health care is the ultimate solution to overall wellness, and is especially important in highly acute situations like the one we experienced with COVID-19.
A focus on health equity represents the aim to provide the same quality of care to everyone, regardless of their background, social status, geographic location or other variables that might serve as a determinant of their health. In 2018, it was found that there was up to a $451 billion healthcare economic burden for racial and ethnic minority communities. Health equity efforts also help to create connectivity between health care providers and those who need health care the most, and most often incur the most cost to the health care provider through their use of services, many of which are consumed in an emergent fashion due to lack of preventive care, chronic disease, comorbidities, etc. This comprehensive approach also helps to control the cost of managing an entire population or community.
As Kull points out, “This new focus on health equity, and community health management, requires a significant shift of effort and resources, from inpatient and acute care, to proactive, outpatient, and even home care. Health care organizations also have access to a powerhouse of data that can inform these decisions and investments. Using that data is an entirely different challenge, however, it can be key in helping ensure that every cohort they serve receives the right care, using the right tools, provider network, and community elements to do so.”
Aaron Kull Offers Solutions
The solutions? Kull has a few. Organizations need to quickly make sense of all of the data they have to mobilize intelligent and more effective operations, and they also need to make this available to third-party organizations in a safe and secure manner. This will naturally lead to more value based care arrangements, as organizations are better able to understand the services being consumed and their associated cost.
The actual proliferation of adoption of artificial intelligence in health care has not yet been recognized, but it must be in order to serve the population effectively. AI has struggled to achieve mass adoption, even in administrative areas; while it has significantly advanced the quality of care delivered through advanced prediction and immunotherapy development, it has not helped to directly reduce labor costs, which remain the highest portion of health care organizational expenses.
He advises introducing more telemedicine, AI, and access to services that don’t require a face-to-face interaction with a doctor. The alignment of care with license and level of service is also essential, and reducing barriers to sharing physicians and getting physicians credentialed and enrolled quickly is crucial. Health care organizations need to get the right resources to the right place at the right time to serve the population.
In conclusion, the future of health care will be shaped by staffing shortages, health equity and value based care efforts, and technology integration. Health care organizations need to address these issues to provide the best quality of care to their patients, and they need to be innovative in the way they attack these problems to effectively address near and long term concerns and opportunities.
Erik Jackson has been a senior editor at Health News Tribune for three years. Fluent in French and proficient in Spanish and Arabic, he focuses on diseases and conditions and the newest trends in medicine.