The COVID-19 pandemic is a rare experience in our lifetimes that has delivered profound, pervasive and lasting health, financial and social impacts. As we think about what’s to come, here are some trends we will be following in 2021.
Virtual Care is Here to Stay …in a Big Way
Long viewed as struggling to gain wide scale adoption, telehealth utilization saw exponential growth in every aspect this past year. Not surprisingly, we saw this phenomenon among Anthem’s own members – whether via our telehealth platform LiveHealth Online, our virtual care tool Sydney Care or among in-network providers across primary care and specialty care. Across the board, utilization reached record highs across Anthem’s virtual care tools
Insights from a recent survey from Amwell show that providers and consumers said they intend to use virtual care more frequently in the near and long-term. In fact, more than half of all consumers in this same survey said they expect to use telehealth more often following COVID-19 than they did before the pandemic, while 92% of providers said they expect to continue video visits after it is safe to see patients in person.
This means that care providers need more support, and we need to consider the broad-scale use of telehealth for all consumer populations. Some research has indicated that younger generations have effortlessly adopted telehealth as part of their healthcare experience while seniors fell behind. However, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 0.1 percent of Medicare primary care visits were virtual in February 2020 but by April the number jumped to 43.5 percent.
With the uptick in usage, long gone are barriers once believed to exist. Creative approaches to virtual care that put the consumer at the center will be bold – and will help increase access and affordability.
Food and Health Will Become Increasingly Synonymous
The ongoing pandemic has exasperated a pre-existing determinant of health: food insecurity. Across the nation, first-time visitors to food banks sat in day-long lines as it is estimated 54 million Americans are grappling with food insecurity. The negative consequences for our health and for healthcare costs are clear. Individuals who are food insecure are at higher risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. Treatment of such chronic disease accounts for almost 80 percent of the growth in health care spending nationwide. Even before the pandemic, Feeding America estimated that $53 billion in healthcare costs was associated with food insecurity among American adults and children.
In 2021, Anthem will continue its steadfast commitment to ensuring better access to nutritious food in communities across the U.S. through a multi-faceted approach. We will be there to continue to provide meals at food banks, roll up our sleeves to aid in distribution, provide the tools to support screening at the point of care, and connect people to local resources in their communities.
This coming year, people will increasingly recognize the connection between health and the full range of drivers that are necessary to address wellbeing – food, chief among them.
COVID-19 Moves Mental Health Even More Front and Center
The pandemic led to a rise in depression, suicide, overdose and the need for therapy, creating a larger demand for inpatient and outpatient services. Our own Anthem data tells us that behavioral health visits have risen by 15 percent for our individual and employer-sponsored members through fall of this year compared to the same time last year. These increases in treatment existed across populations: For our Beacon Medicaid members, we saw a 29 percent increase in outpatient and inpatient behavioral health services and a 13 percent increase in the average length of stay for inpatient mental health services. And for our Beacon Medicare members, we saw a 5 percent increase in outpatient and inpatient behavioral health services, a 14 percent increase in average length of stay for inpatient behavioral health services and an 18 percent increase in substance abuse diagnosis.
With the mental and emotional impacts of the pandemic as urgent as the physical impacts of the disease itself, there is a silver lining: 2021 will allow us to bring even more discussion out into the open about people’s total wellbeing.
People Will Re-Engage in Healthcare – in Creative Ways
The COVID-19 pandemic created a significant drop in preventative care screenings and elective procedures as stay-at-home orders temporarily closed physicians’ offices, and consumers delayed these important procedures. In fact, a recent study by the Health Care Cost Institute revealed a nationwide drop in mammograms, childhood vaccines and colonoscopies in the spring of 2020.
By rethinking pre-pandemic norms Anthem can ensure people are receiving the care they need in a timely manner – whether through telehealth or by redirecting certain procedures to outpatient settings. By doing so, we believe we can help mitigate the potential for adverse outcomes or avoid more serious complications down the road.
Engaging in critical preventative care is one of the best ways to create healthier, fuller lives, and 2021 will see creative approaches to ensure people get the care they need — for example, home lab kits or blood pressure cuffs to ensure they have what they need to manage their health and stay safe.
As we look back on this past year, and look ahead to what’s next, much remains to be seen. What we do know is we have incredible opportunities to create a future of healthcare that’s simpler, more affordable and more accessible for all. And we are stepping up with greater urgency to leverage our scale and talents to truly improve lives and create change—for the better.