The Impact of Change

Industry forecast predicts rapid recovery of volume, shifts in delivery of care.

As the nation adjusts to life amid a pandemic, we are starting to see a return to quasi-normal for industries throughout the country. The healthcare industry was one of the industries that the pandemic hit the hardest, requiring a massive shift towards telemedicine for patient care. Vizient, Inc., and its subsidiary Sg2 recently released a forecast that projects a rapid recovery of volume for most healthcare services, followed by a significant shift in the delivery of healthcare services.

The 2021 Impact of Change Forecast proposes that inpatient volumes will recover to their pre-COVID levels by 2022 and then level out. The forecast reports that physician clinics will see a pronounced decline for in-person visits as patients shift to virtual visits, and non-visit services, like laboratory testing and imaging, are projected to grow 18% by 2029. Instead, we will begin to see a shift towards a “hospital-at-home” scenario where patients will be monitored from home using remote and virtual care systems connected to the hospital team, with in-person visits by a nurse or doctor.

Top takeaways from the forecast

Madeleine McDowell, MD, FAAP, principal and medical director of Quality and Strategy at Sg2, said we’re going to see a strong recovery over the next six months in terms of health care utilization, with overall outpatient demand surpassing 2019 volumes. “However, not everything will return to pre-pandemic levels.” When reached for comment, McDowell further broke down the forecast with three major takeaways:

  1. While recovery is expected, healthcare organizations should consider researching the potential for volumes to shift to lower-cost sites of care and plan accordingly.
  2. Growth opportunities mandate many organizations to invest in chronic disease management services.
  3. Care redesign and policy drivers will challenge hospitals to rethink their ambulatory footprint and strategy.

The future is telehealth

Telehealth is only going to become a greater standard in the healthcare industry. As many physician’s offices were closed to the public in early 2020, telehealth became the most convenient way for patients to seek medical assistance, while flattening the curve of the virus. McDowell said, “The shift to telehealth was accelerated by the pandemic. Earlier this year, approximately 20% of low-acuity physician visits were occurring virtually. We anticipate this trend will continue over the course of the decade as roughly 29% of visits shift to virtual by 2029.”

Not only does telehealth offer convenience for the patient, but it also improves access to healthcare for those who cannot or will not come into a physician’s office. Telehealth can expand delivery of service to more rural areas and help stretch provider networks in new ways. Of course, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all system, but it equips doctors to provide better patient care to those who might not receive it on a regular basis. “Service lines such as behavioral health, medicine and neurosciences are best suited for this shift,” McDowell said.

What does this mean for the U.S. healthcare supply chain?

This projected scenario will have the greatest effect on how the healthcare supply chain is managed. Supply chains across the world are still recovering, but the healthcare supply chain might have suffered the most. In order to avoid any significant disruptions in the future, healthcare providers will need to evaluate the best way to move forward. “Healthcare providers are going to have to look at their supply chain through a new lens,” said David Gillan, SVP, Supply Chain at Vizient, Inc. “Not only are they having to identify ways to create greater resiliency and redundancy as a result of the pandemic, but they are also having to look more specifically at the types of products they are buying and the sites of care they will be used.”

Creativity and diversification might be the best path forward, but it won’t be an easy road for supply chain managers. The added pressure of supplying new sites will create an interesting wrinkle for supply chain managers down the road. Gillan says, “Along with shifts in site of care, the forecasted expansion of telehealth and remote monitoring will require the supply chain to be able to service patients in home-care settings. Currently, it isn’t set up to support this volume of in-home needs. It will be interesting to see how hospitals and non-acute providers work to address this gap through traditional and non-traditional distribution models.”

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