Healthcare trends emerging prior to the pandemic are now expected to accelerate as the impact of the disease outbreak unfolds.

More attention will be paid to healthcare costs. Consumers will become more selective about healthcare services. The ways in which healthcare is delivered and accessed will change. Big providers will be better positioned than small ones to prosper.

Another big upshot will be closer collaboration among healthcare systems and senior living and care providers. “The COVID-19 crisis highlights the need for more cooperation,” said Andre Maksimow, senior vice president, Kaufman Hall, a consulting firm. “Providers will see the advantage of forming partnerships.”

Prior to the disease outbreak, Maksimow led a panel discussion at the 2020 NIC Spring Conference titled: “Five Healthcare Trends You Need to Know.” NIC recently circled back with Maksimow, a healthcare expert, and the panelists to update their outlook on emerging trends in the wake of the pandemic. They agreed that the outbreak will hasten trends already in place.

“The pandemic will change the healthcare delivery model,” noted panelist Brian Cloch, principal at Innovative Health. He owns skilled nursing and assisted living properties. Cloch expects senior living providers to be more invested in resident health outcomes amid the continued shift to value-based care.

Prior to the pandemic, healthcare costs were growing at an unsustainable rate, crowding out other investments and expenditures. The COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase pressure on cost reduction, according to Maksimow. “Healthcare will get a harder look.”

Employers will offer lower cost insurance plans and ones that limit consumer choice by mandating the use of preferred healthcare providers and networks. This will underscore another underlying healthcare trend: the emergence of the healthcare consumer. People will become more cost conscious. Price transparency for care will become more common. Consumers will be able to compare prices for the same procedure from different providers.

The New Normal: On-Site Care

Healthcare delivery and access will undergo perhaps the biggest change.

“Telehealth is here to stay,” noted Maksimow.  The pandemic has produced a need for virtual care. Seniors housing and healthcare providers alike are quickly adopting online visits. Residents like the convenience too.

Remote patient monitoring is also on the upswing. “Data can be gathered remotely to keep people healthy,” said panelist Mark Feinberg, CEO at Stay Smart Care. The company offers a remote monitoring platform. “Healthcare access and delivery has gone virtual,” he added.

The Stay Smart Care platform tracks vital signs, activity levels, medication data, and cognitive function. Non-intrusive infrared sensors gather much of the data and can also detect falls. Artificial intelligence analyzes the data to help prevent emergencies before they arise.

Registered nurses monitor the data and health indicators and communicate changes to the senior living operator.

Providing in-person healthcare services to residents will also increase. “The COVID-19 crisis highlights the benefit of this model,” said panelist Grace Chen, senior vice president of care services at Oak Street Health. The company provides primary care services to Medicare enrollees in underserved populations.

Last January, Oak Street partnered with four Chicago-area assisted living buildings operated by Pathway to Living, a company co-founded by Cloch. Oak Street doctors are on-site at the buildings two times a week to see residents who belong to a special Medicare Advantage plan. The insurer is MoreCare.

Senior living communities have restricted visits by some vendors because of the pandemic. But Oak Street has continued to send its doctors to the Pathway buildings because of an established working relationship that includes close cooperation, said Chen. Enrolled residents don’t have to take the risk of leaving the building to see the doctor either, she added.

The Oak Street model highlights the benefits of collaboration between insurers, healthcare providers and senior living operators. “We need to get proactive about healthcare,” said Cloch. He explained that on-site healthcare practitioners can spot trouble signs among residents early on and help avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.

How to Leverage Physician Groups

New strategies on how to work with physicians were also highlighted at NIC’s Spring Conference at a session titled: “What’s the Physicians Role in the Value Equation?” Panel moderator Anne Tumlinson, CEO at ATI Advisory remarked, “If you don’t have a strategy about the role of the physician, you will be behind in terms of the needs of the patient population, referral sources and payors.”

Some ideas suggested by panelists included:  how to build a team approach, leveraging technology, and the creation of protocols, data collection and cost controls.

Looking ahead, Maksimow expects more disruption. Corporate mergers are creating new models of care. For example, the drug store chain CVS purchased insurer Aetna. With its huge retail footprint of 11,000 locations, CVS could provide primary care services to Aetna beneficiaries to avoid hospital admissions. “They are reinventing the front door of healthcare,” said Maksimow.

Other big companies see opportunities in healthcare. Google and Microsoft are investing in healthcare start-ups. Maksimow speculated whether Amazon might roll out a low-cost insurance product to its 100 million Prime members. “It could upend the healthcare market.”

Scale will matter in the post pandemic world, according to Maksimow. Big companies will have the advantage of access to capital. He foresees more mergers and acquisitions, and bankruptcies, in the healthcare market. That will cause senior living providers to rethink resident care.

The pandemic presents an opportunity for senior living providers to improve their business model by collaborating more closely with healthcare partners, said Cloch, adding, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”