10 health care trends to watch in the year ahead

Providence CEO Rod Hochman, M.D., releases his sixth-annual list of predictions, calling 2024 the year of health care transformation and collaboration.

RENTON, Wash., Jan. 23, 2024 – Rod Hochman, M.D., president and CEO of Providence, a not-for-profit health system serving the Western U.S., today released his sixth-annual list of health care predictions for the year ahead.

“Transformation and collaboration will be a consistent theme across health care in 2024. Though health care has been talking about disrupting itself for years, this will be a year of accelerated change and new innovations adopted at scale,” Dr. Hochman said.

“The explosion of generative AI will be one of the major drivers of transformation, and we’ll see health systems partner with the tech sector to responsibly usher in new innovations,” according to Dr. Hochman. “Another key factor is that the U.S., which consumes more than $4.5 trillion annually on health care, simply cannot afford to increase spending, creating a burning platform for change. What’s more, the worsening shortage of health care personnel is driving the need for new and better ways to support caregivers and expand access to care.”

How will health systems navigate the rapid pace of change, and can they seize the opportunity to shape the future of health care? Here are Dr. Hochman’s top 10 predictions for 2024.

1.     Generative AI will be fast-paced and ubiquitous, with innovative partnerships ushering in a new era of transformation in health care. Having significantly invested in IT infrastructure, digital and cloud technology in recent years, health systems have laid the foundation for rapid AI innovation in 2024. Generative AI will fuel advances leading to personalized patient experiences, improved patient outcomes and clinical breakthroughs. It will have a major impact behind the scenes, creating more access to care by better predicting and scheduling operating room usage and reducing the time clinicians spend on administrative tasks through innovations such as in-basket management. Partnerships between health systems and technology companies will play a key role.

2.     With the AI boom comes greater responsibility, and clinicians will lead the charge in ethical use. While AI has the power to transform health care rapidly, it also brings heightened risks for patients. Clinicians will serve as stewards of the process, advocating for patients and prioritizing governance to safeguard patient data and privacy. Preventing bias and ensuring access to promising innovations for all, especially underserved populations, will also be top priorities. Striking the balance between leveraging technological breakthroughs for the greater good and securing the appropriate guardrails will be paramount. 

3.     Innovative care models, tested as pilot projects last year, will be adopted at scale nationally. Amid the worsening shortage of health care personnel across the U.S., one thing has become clear: the way care is delivered today is no longer sustainable. There simply will not be enough trained professionals to care for the country’s growing and aging population until the care model is transformed. Health systems made inroads last year with pilot projects, such as Providence’s “co-caring” model, which uses virtual nursing to support care teams at the bedside. Expect these models to quickly shift from small pilots to broader adoption in 2024 as a way to provide much needed relief for the nation’s caregivers and ensure access to care.

4.     The U.S. will max out on health care spending, forcing a shake-up in payment models and costs. Health care spending in the U.S. will exceed $4.5 trillion annually, consuming more than 18.5% of the national GDP. This will create a burning platform for innovative payment models. For example, free primary care as a basic benefit for all Americans will surface as a viable and affordable option for keeping more of the population healthy while freeing up resources for needed specialty care. A reckoning on drug costs is also in store this year, especially as employers and payers push back on PBMs and exorbitant prices that keep vital medications out of reach for those in need.

5.     For-profit insurers will feel mounting pressure to put patients and caregivers ahead of shareholders. Fortune 500 insurers have reported record-breaking profits since the pandemic, taking precious dollars that could have gone toward local health care and redirecting them to shareholders. This redirection of resources is tantamount to “defunding community health care” at a time when inflation is driving up the cost of pharmaceuticals, supplies and wages. In 2024, calls will grow for insurers to step up and provide patients with adequate, timely coverage for needed care and to help ensure front-line caregivers receive market-competitive wages.  

6.     In pursuit of health equity, partnerships that improve maternal health will take center stage. With African American and Native American patients more likely to die from pregnancy than white patients, collaborations to improve outcomes among populations of color will gain significant momentum in 2024. Programs like Providence’s JUST Birth Network, which provides access to doulas, childbirth educators and cultural navigators, will become more the norm than the exception in the year ahead. This is especially more likely thanks to new grants being made available as part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services new Transforming Maternal Health Model.

7.     The rural health care crisis will spur innovative solutions for revamping access to care. Nearly 30% of all rural hospitals will be on the brink of closure this year due to inflationary pressures, dwindling reserves and workforce shortages. To ensure continued access to care in smaller communities, health systems will partner with others to fill the local talent pipeline, increase mobile offerings and create more virtual access to services.

8.     Big data in health care will reach a tipping point, driving clinical breakthroughs and improving health outcomes. Unstructured data in the electronic health record – such as clinical notes and imaging – have long been an untapped resource that could hold the key to major advances in prevention, diagnostics and treatment. Through collaborative efforts, such as the Truveta data consortium, health systems will work together to build secure, de-identified data sets that will power transformation through AI, predictive analytics and clinical research. In 2024, these data sets will grow large enough to drive life-saving breakthroughs in clinical care.

9.     Greater collaboration on administrative functions will enable clinicians to keep the focus on direct patient care.  In contrast to traditional mergers and acquisitions, health systems will find new ways to partner on administrative functions, working together to provide services at scale. Collaborating on IT support and cybersecurity, for example, rather than duplicating resources will help health systems keep up with technology and protect against cyberthreats, allowing providers to stay focused on clinical care. The Providence Global Center in Hyderabad, India, is an example of an innovative shared resource providing world-class engineering and technical support to caregivers in the U.S.

10.     A green revolution in health care will gain momentum as health systems aim to slash their carbon footprint. With hospitals accounting for 8% of all greenhouse gases in the U.S., the urgency to reduce emissions will escalate in 2024. Meanwhile, building more resilient health care facilities and workforces will also be imperative as extreme weather events become more frequent. In the year ahead, expect sustainable practices to continue to be incorporated into all aspects of the health care delivery system, from energy use to waste reduction and food and supply procurement.

And if all the above weren’t enough, the U.S. is also in store for a contentious election year. “Culture wars and geopolitics will continue to divide the country and the world. But what gives me hope,” Dr. Hochman said, “is that the nation’s caregivers will serve as a standard bearer for unity in local communities, rallying around a shared calling of service and setting a tone of respect and compassion for all.” 

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