Healthcare is evolving every day and the successful industry leaders will be those who truly focus on transformation. Our team is seeing an evolution in how patient care is delivered with a focus on putting humans at the center of care. This was especially highlighted during the most recent HLTH conference. We see five key trends emerging in healthcare innovation, which serve as signals for what’s to come heading into 2022 and beyond.

  1. Health equity must be a priority for all

The pandemic brought to light myriad inequities in vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations that have existed for years. Some people struggle to access basic care due to lack of insurance, transportation challenges and technology barriers, or issues with childcare and taking time off from work. “The zip code one lives in should not determine the quality of care one receives,” says Accenture's health equity lead Ankoor Shah1. Additionally, health inequity is not just about the geographically or economically underserved. People suffering from mental illness or other sensitive issues may be struggling to find a provider who provides culturally competent medical care.

The rise in virtual health options has made care more accessible to many, but underlying root causes of health inequity have yet to be addressed. It will be increasingly important to better understand population needs, build trust by responding to those needs and continually seek ways to reduce bias. Some healthcare organizations are beginning to tackle the difficult underlying issues. One health plan is exploring tying end-of-year bonuses to an improvement in key affordability and accessibility metrics, while others are partnering with payers and providers to ensure members can access curated content through a collection of unique pathways and access primary care while respecting individual’s cultural values.

However, bolder steps are needed, and we all need to mobilize our organizations to tackle these systemic issues at the root by building a culture centered on this mission. Everyone must be on board with the mission, else it will fail.

  1. Women’s health is in the spotlight

The women and family segment of healthcare is receiving increasing attention—and investment. We’ve seen women’s health take off in 2021, with $1.3B raised as of August 31, 2021 (nearly doubling all of 2020s funding – $774M).2 Such financial commitment is a signal of demand and a gap in the market and follows the rise of other full-stack models built around solving needs for a specific population.

Women are seeking solutions that can support them across different stages in their journey, from fertility to nursing, pregnancy, menopause, sexual health and more. The organizations that holistically address these needs will differentiate themselves in the market. Those that don’t risk losing the opportunity to serve this key population that comprises 50% of the market.

Leaders like Maven Clinic are setting the bar.3 The company uses a virtual-first care model to deliver a comprehensive set of healthcare services to women and families to achieve better outcomes at a lower cost. Such digital innovations can help to address disparities in care, particularly for women and families who may not have had the right resources to fit their needs locally.

  1. Convergence: Health is everyone’s business

Industry convergence has continued to deepen during the pandemic, as non-traditional healthcare companies continue to see health as an integral part of their strategy and aim to play a larger role in improving our collective health experience. Convergence players, led by big tech and retail, are focusing on different parts of the value chain and taking different approaches to partnership. For example, Google is pursuing numerous initiatives in data and analytics, partnering with health systems and health plans.4 Microsoft is enabling the next generation of patient care and collaboration through its cloud capabilities and taking an active role in reducing bias in AI algorithms.5

Convergence players, led by big tech and retail, are focusing on different parts of the value chain and taking different approaches to partnership. Retailers are taking a different strategy by leveraging their brick-and-mortar locations and existing customer loyalty to expand into new health categories and blur the lines between patient and consumer. Walmart+ covers grocery needs and is planning to expand into pharmacy, durable medical equipment, home medical equipment and prescriptions.6 The company is also partnering with Transcarent to offer self-insured employers access to high-value care at affordable prices.7 Walgreens is focused on its value-based primary care strategy, doubling down on its investment in VillageMD and seeking to serve underserved and rural communities across America.8 Others from Uber Health9, Zoom10, the NBA11 and Morgan Stanley12 have all entered healthcare through different avenues and initiatives, acknowledging that health has impacted their core business and thus became a focus area.

Traditional healthcare organizations can benefit by uniting complementary capabilities and strengths with convergence players and going to market together. However, it will be critical for healthcare organizations to develop their own strategies to know when and how to partner to avoid disruption and ensure they can maintain their own consumer loyalty.

  1. Behavioral and mental health stigmas must be fought

As we emerge from the COVID crisis, many people are struggling with mental health issues. Our younger, vulnerable generations have had the highest reported rates of suicidal thoughts and substance abuse disorders during the last year, compounding an already dire situation. However, the promising news is that that younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) are also more open to behavioral health therapy—and with the growth of mental health startups, there are more nuanced options available to them.

Yet people will not pursue these solutions if they are unaware—or if there is stigma. Employers are being called to action to elevate the awareness of mental health wellbeing and benefits to the same level as 401K programs. Company leaders must foster a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help and they should invest in training managers to be equipped to have conversations with their employees about the solutions available to them.

To address the population’s unique behavioral health needs, we will need a tailored approach of both virtual and in-person options, and a plan of attack to raise awareness so that people use the tools available to them.

  1. Employer-sponsored healthcare reimagined

We’re at a crossroads of employer-sponsored care as premiums continue to rise and legacy offerings, like broad preferred provider organizations and high-deductible plans, are no longer enough. Employers are looking for new benefits and innovative ways to meet the needs of their employees, particularly as they seek to retain and attract new talent amongst an active labor market. New human-centric models are emerging such as Wellthy, which seeks to address the silent and growing caregiver crisis, helping employees manage stress and costs while caring for elderly parents. Companies like Firefly Health are offering health coverage with an embedded virtual-first care model to meet employees where they are with the right level of care to reduce cost and unnecessary in-person treatment. 

To address the mental health crisis, about 39% of mid- to large-sized US employers have already changed their mental health benefits since the pandemic began, including virtual mental health services.13 New network constructs are gaining traction, such as direct contracting and micro-networks, allowing for greater transparency and different ways to collaborate with providers.

While employers are making strides to serve as the matchmaker between their employees and benefits, they will need help from the broader health ecosystem to deliver on the promise of personalized and tailored benefits. With collaboration and reimagination, employers can move the needle on improving outcomes for complex disease and they can address the inequity and racial disparities in care.

Business as usual will not position any healthcare organization for future success and growth. The industry must pursue new healthcare innovations to provide people accessible care, more personalized experiences and better outcomes. People and healthcare organizations alike will benefit, and we can pave the way for greater innovations to come.

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13 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey | KFF

Joshua Kraus

Senior Manager – Strategy, Health

Rory Lin

Manager – Health Strategy

Anshul Dhingra

Analyst – Health Strategy

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