2021 Healthcare Trends to Watch

The pandemic has accelerated dramatic changes to the health industry such as virtual care, mental health and health equity.

The pandemic has accelerated dramatic changes in healthcare and well-being in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021, said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health, the premier non-profit organization representing large employers’ perspectives on health, well-being and workforce strategy issues.

“Virtual care will proliferate, companies will increasingly focus on employee mental health and emotional well-being, and the health care ecosystem will examine and address issues of health equity,” Kelsay said, identifying some of the 2021 Trends to Watch, as identified by the Business Group.

The five interrelated trends also include reimagining healthcare delivery and supporting the well-being needs of a changing workforce, according to a report by Business Group.

As the year unfolds, the Business Group will continue to offer a range of materials, including research, benchmarking calls, summits, webinars and podcasts, on the new healthcare climate.

According to the organization, some specific details on the 2021 trends to watch are:

The Proliferation of Virtual Care—Virtual care, which exploded in 2020, will continue to grow in 2021. Patients will have expanded virtual options and improved availability through telehealth platforms and providers. Virtual care options will also include weight management, care management for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prenatal care, and musculoskeletal care management/physical therapy. In addition, more attention will be given to the evaluation of the quality, outcomes, effectiveness, patient experience and cost of virtual care options and innovations, as well as the appropriateness of virtual vs. in-person care for specific services.

A Reimagining of Health Care Delivery—The pandemic has resulted in other changes in healthcare delivery, such as moving lower acuity care out of the hospital to free up beds for patients with COVID-19 and other serious conditions. Moreover, even though employers and plans may have momentarily slowed the expansion of alternative payment and delivery models because of the pandemic, a redoubling of efforts in 2021 will drive improvements in quality and value.

A Spotlight on Mental Health and Emotional Well-being—In large part because of the pandemic, employers stepped up their focus on employee stress and anxiety, loneliness, addiction, depression and other serious mental illness. In 2021, novel approaches such virtual counseling and the integration of Employee Assistance Programs and mental health benefits, will place mental health on par with other medical conditions.

Adapting to the Well-being Needs of a Changing Workforce—Multiple factors, including the pandemic, the economy and the expectations of younger workers, have caused a shift in employees’ well-being needs. For instance, those living alone may struggle with social connection, while others juggling childcare, virtual school or caregiving in the home may have difficulty creating a work/life balance. In 2021, employers will continue to demonstrate flexibility and support employee needs through leave, remote work and other benefits.

Addressing Gaps in Health Equity—Disparities in health care as a result of race, ethnicity and geography have been magnified during the pandemic. These gaps manifest themselves in differences in health conditions and outcomes, emotional well-being and mortality. In 2021, the health care ecosystem, including providers, suppliers and payers, will boost efforts to examine and address health equity, while mitigating the harmful effects of social determinants of health.