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Paduda: Predictions for Healthcare in 2024

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Some of you know Jay Stith — he’s been working with HSA for half a decade now, heading up data analytics and research. Jay’s brilliant, has a great dry wit, and most of all very insightful.

Joe Paduda

Joe Paduda

He sees stuff — others — including me — don’t.

So, I asked Jay to make his predictions for healthcare in 2024… lest the work comp folks stop reading here, remember workers’ comp is the flea on the tail of the healthcare elephant.

Outside of employment, the biggest single factor affecting workers’ comp is healthcare — hands down.

1. Hospital/ Health System M&A will ramp up in a big way leading to even more consolidation around the country.
    1. M&A dropped dramatically during COVID so there is an element of catch-up on top of a rapidly changing healthcare industry, financially distressed hospitals/health systems offering themselves as prime takeover candidates, and potentially dropping interest rates all point toward high levels of M&A activity.

2. And… Facility fees will continue to be the elephant stomping around the room. Remaining high and potentially going higher all while limited efforts are made to curtail them.
    1. A next step to prediction #1 — as consolidation often means high prices. Little activity has occurred to combat facility fees so far and with sexier issues like AI monopolizing meetings I don’t see meaningful action broadly coming.

3. Staffing shortages will keep already high labor costs high — looking at nurses in particular.
    1. The thousands of physicians and nurses entering the workforce lags the number of physicians who are retiring or simply exiting the industry. This decline coupled with the aging U.S. population is exacerbating the already critical problem. We are, and have been, under-supplied with nurses across the healthcare landscape and between structural issues like not enough nurse education faculty and the median age of nurses > 50 this issue is unlikely to change.

4. Human-caused climate change will disrupt even more businesses with policy progress being slow and insufficient.
    1. We don’t know what we don’t know — climate-related problems are impacting a wide range of business and employee needs. In addition to the obvious employee-injury issues associated with climate change, disruptions to care access, employee-personal-life problems (e.g. damage to home), and climate migration make climate-associated changes more difficult to model and properly account for.
    2. As if we needed more proof, here’s what’s happening in California…

5. The AI arms race will continue with companies everywhere announcing new AI tools for various business segments BUT true internal buy-in will still be far away as the tools will underwhelm managers dreams for headache-reduction.
    1. Managers are dreaming about the volume of tasks that AI will be able to effectively handle in a fraction of the time while producing higher quality work than their current teams. As companies learn how difficult properly training an AI tool is and how much time/resources are required to make even marginal gains, people will get frustrated about having over-promised and/or having to deal with poorly functioning AI tools — e.g. a bad chatbot or an internal system lacking proper training on a costly outlier situation.
    2. AI and technology improvements will dominate the headlines and capex allocations BUT customer service will remain more correlated to client satisfaction.
    3. Healthcare and insurance have changed a lot over the decades but as technology has gotten fancier and the industry more complex, high quality customer service has remained the top-rated factor when assessing a successful vendor-client relationship… and it will not change this year.

What does this mean for you?

Consolidation = higher facility costs.

Staffing shortages = higher facility costs.

Human-caused climate change = BIG problem.

AI ≠ panacea.

Joseph Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates, a consulting firm focused on improving medical management programs in workers’ compensation. This column is republished with his permission from his Managed Care Matters blog.

 

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