By Ryan Van Wert, MD

For many the beginning of the year represents an opportunity to share big visions for future impacts. For those of us in the healthcare trenches, we thought a better use of time was to review the past in context of the exciting paths hard work has carved out to carry us forward in high-value care for everyone. 

Two years ago, shifting from fee-for service to value-based care was still at the center of debate. Today it has become the agreed upon standard most all of us are striving toward. Below are three more trends we’ll be watching this year — 

Trend #1: Acquisitions and Consolidation Will Continue Amongst Health Systems and Post-Acute Operators

This is no surprise as all healthcare organizations are looking to improve quality of care while lowering costs. As of December 2019, home health and hospice mergers were at 79 deals. While the number of hospital deals has dipped since a high in 2017, we’ll continue to see consolidation in 2020 and beyond. One example of this anticipated growth, Ochsner Health System and Lafayette General Health plan to merge, with an expected close date in the spring of 2020. This merger would make it the largest health system in the state of Louisiana.

Although improving quality of care is one goal of hospital and merger acquisitions, a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that quality stayed the same or worsened for those hospitals that were acquired. The Vynca team will be watching to see what efforts get put into place to reverse this, as improving quality is a key objective of mergers.

Trend #2: Creative Use of Technology Will Support Patient Engagement Strategies

A recent report from the Center of Connected Medicine and KLAS shows patient engagement remains top of mind for health systems, and that patients are looking for a digital experience similar to what they experience in other industries and from other apps. As we continue to move towards value-based care, health systems will look for ways to engage their patients in an effort to lower costs, and continue to leverage their patient portal and telemedicine to do so.

We’ll continue to see a rise in technology being used to engage patients, increasingly so in those individuals nearing the end of life. We’re already seeing drones being used for hospice patients, allowing them to take one last ‘visit’ to a special place or one they had always wished to see. We’re also seeing a rise in virtual reality, allowing these patients to complete bucket list wishes while being confined to their beds or home.

Trend #3: Palliative Care Will Take Center Stage Alongside the Wellness Movement

Just the other week, CMS announced the appointment of palliative care entrepreneur, Brad Smith, as the new director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). This appointment indicates that palliative care and serious illness care will finally take priority. Palliative care aligns with value-based care, including a reduction of ICU utilization, which I see first-hand as a critical care physician.

We’re seeing those caring for the aging population recognizing the value and embracing palliative care. In 2020, 61 Medicare Advantage plans are offering palliative care services. Only 15 plans offered services in 2019. While this increase may improve access to community palliative care services, there is a real fear that there will be a shortage of trained palliative care providers in the coming years.

Looking back on the last two years we can clearly see core trends emerging, reinforcing personalized health care at the center of everyones agenda this year. 

Which trends are you most excited about seeing grow?

Ryan Van Wert, MD is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vynca, part-time Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University.

About the Author

Ryan Van Wert

Dr. Van Wert is a co-founder and CEO of Vynca. In addition to his role at Vynca, Dr. Van Wert is a part-time Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University, where he maintains a small clinical practice.

Prior to Vynca, Dr. Van Wert co-founded AWAIR, Inc., a medical device company focused on reducing complications for critically ill patients, which was acquired by Cook Medical Technologies in 2015.