Embracing change in patient care: Top trends shaping 2024

Emerging initiatives gain momentum as organizations explore the future of virtual care, personalized genomics and patient-centric approaches.

This article is part of the December 2023 COVERstory.

There’s growing awareness of the need to improve patient experience, one of the original components of the Triple Aim first introduced by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2007. While a lot of progress has been made, healthcare organizations have a long way to go. 

The challenge is difficult because of the complexity of the nation’s healthcare system, the evolution of healthcare systems that often integrated in name only, the existing confusion resulting from America’s system of care providers, care payers, care purchasers and care consumers, and rising inflation that generally falls on consumers. 

But the rise of consumerism in healthcare portends an evolution in healthcare that is expected to accelerate in 2024, building on trends that increasingly became evident in 2023. Here are three trends that will gain momentum in the coming year. 

Harnessing technology to distribute care virtually

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a variety of technology tools helped patients retain access to healthcare services and information, as the fear of virus transmission limited in-person encounters. Even though fears of COVID transmission have diminished, consumers embraced the ability to access care and services virtually. 

The number of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth surged 63-fold during the pandemic to 52.7 million in 2020, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services. Most beneficiaries (92 percent) received telehealth visits in their homes, which was not permissible in Medicare before the pandemic. While visits have declined from the pandemic peak, the use of telehealth continued in 2022, the American Medical Association reported, but experts in an AMA webinar predicted such virtual services will build only slowly over the next several years to reach levels attained during the pandemic. 

For its part, federal agencies appear to be enabling access to the care – the Department of Health and Human Services has made permanent some of the administrative steps it took to expedite telemedicine adoption during the pandemic. For example, Medicare patients now can receive telehealth services for behavioral and mental healthcare in their homes, and they can receive a wider range of telehealth services in their homes through Dec. 31, 2024. 

But other technologies are expected to come into play in improving access to care for patients, outside of traditional providers’ walls. Consumers have become accustomed to accessing care and information via their smartphones through specialized apps. For example, Aiberry is creating an AI-powered mental health assessment platform that expects to include screening for five major anxiety disorders in addition to depression. 

Providers and payers see value in using technology to improve access to consumers – for example, Inland Empire Health Plan and Molina Healthcare of California announced a partnership with digital behavioral health company BeMe Health to give 72,000 California teenagers equitable access to mobile mental health support. The school-based community program is designed to provide secure, scalable mental health support for at-risk teens across 10 local educational agencies in California. 

The measured use of technology in improving access and boosting the patient experience can enable quicker access to care before conditions get serious, enabling organizations to pre-emptively offer services earlier, keeping patients healthier and empowering them to be more engaged with their own care. 

Care personalized to individuals’ genomic makeup

Genomics – only two decades ago, breakthrough science – is on the cusp of becoming mainstream for clinical care. 

It’s been a quick and exciting trip. The Human Genome Project was completed only 20 years ago, in 2003, after a 13-year, $3 billion initiative. The estimated cost for a human genome sequencing was $100 million in 2001. Now, such testing is approaching affordability for consumers, as many providers offer testing for less than $1,000. 

It’s no wonder, then, that provider organizations are factoring in genomics in their treatment of patients. As one example, NorthShore University HealthSystem operates its Genomic Health Initiative to integrate genomic research to study genetic variations and how to treat patients with personalized medical interventions. 

But widely incorporating genomic information into existing clinical records is challenging because of the complexity of the data and size of the datasets. Some early efforts are underway – in one, Foundation Medicine, which provides genomic profiling tests for patients with advanced cancer, is working with several electronic health record vendors and healthcare providers to further automate the ordering of tests and receiving of results within EHRs. 

Efforts are also in progress on the tech vendor side – for example, MEDITECH is addressing some of the technology challenges with its Expanse Genomics enhanced EHR system, which is said to offer an innovative way to collect genetic information, pairing it with tools and resources that enable clinicians to make more informed clinical decisions for patients. 

But there’s much work to do to successfully incorporate genetic information into treatment and clinician workflows. And technology may be able to solve the complexity through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. And federated learning – enabling research that pools information from various organizations without requiring it to be aggregated in one place – may be applicable to genomic research. 

In any event, more attention will be paid to personalizing medicine for individual patients, aiming to increase efficacy and reduce expense on treatments that won’t work. 

Putting patients at the center of their care

Long the hype of marketing, the notion of putting patients at the center of care is evolving to become practical. And more market forces are looking to further engage patients in their care. 

The challenge has remained moving this concept from the theoretical and aspirational to reality. 

Patient centrality is one of the key concepts for improving interoperability of healthcare information being put forward by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Its presentations have illustrated this key concept, building on initiatives from federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Recently, ONC has released a Patient Engagement Playbook, which aims to help providers capitalize on potential benefits of improving patient access to information, integrate patient-generated data and improve compliance with care instructions. 

Additionally, more payers are taking an active role in ensuring patients are aware of their health information and taking necessary steps to improve self-care and achieve regular routine care. For example, some Medicare Advantage plans are offering beneficiaries rewards for having annual wellness checkups, home health assessments or vaccinations. 

Another important component for putting patients at the center of care is ensuring that they have access to their medical information in a format that they want. Medical data is typically accessible via patient portals, but only about a third of patients actually accessed their data via portals in 2020, ONC reported. The hope is that patients will increasingly be able to access their information through third-party apps, enabled via patient-access APIs

Encouraging this patient participation in care will continue to be an important goal for the industry in 2024. 

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