If you thought 2017 was an interesting year in the healthcare arena, 2018 promises even more change!
The biggest healthcare trends in the industry revolve around attempts to manage rising insurance and medical costs. For example, more small to mid-size employers are exploring self-insurance, where they self-fund their healthcare plans and use group stop-loss insurance to mitigate the risk. On the medical care delivery side, ever-evolving technologies are leading to new and better ways to diagnose health problems and provide appropriate treatment.
Amid all that will take place in 2018, three healthcare trends will likely have the most impact: wellness programs, Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), and technology and delivery healthcare.
Healthcare Trends for 2018
1. Wellness Programs
Strategies for lowering medical costs through preventive health management will continue to gain momentum in 2018. Wellness programs represent one of the more successful components of this approach.
Wellness programs, which are often featured with high deductible health plans and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), work by helping participants make better lifestyle choices to improve their health. They typically start with an initial health screening, and then offer specific programs to address identified health problems. These programs range from exercise and weight-loss regimens to stop smoking and diabetes management programs, among others.
By supporting healthier lifestyles, employers hope their workers will experience fewer medical problems and, hence, incur lower medical costs. In addition, fewer sick days translates to more productivity. To encourage enrollment in company wellness programs, employers often reward employees with cash, discounts on products and services, gym memberships and other types of incentives. However, research has found that offering a comprehensive program produces the highest participation rates.
With more employers and employees recognizing the benefits of wellness programs, expect participation to continue growing in 2018.
2. Health Reimbursement Arrangements
Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) have also been gaining in popularity over the past few years. These tax-advantaged benefit plans allow employees to use an employer-funded account to pay for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.
In addition to traditional HRAs, there are qualified small employer HRAs (QSEHRAs). In December 2016, the Cures Act was signed into law which allows small employers to establish HRAs for their workforce; unlike traditional HRAs, QSEHRAS can be used to pay for non-group plan health insurance premiums, including plans purchased on healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. To qualify, employers must not offer a group health plan and employ fewer than 50 full-time employees.
3. Technology and Digital Healthcare
Of the three healthcare trends, the increasing use of digital technology may have the most impact. For managed data and improved medical care delivery, look for the following in 2018:
- The maturation of empathetic health interfaces. The ongoing development of healthcare technologies that are more empathetic and human-like has tremendous potential to benefit mental health, elder care and other areas. Already, responsive interfaces have been introduced that patients are beginning to trust and rely on.
- Increasing use of blockchain solutions. Blockchain solutions enable the highly secure, immutable (write once, read only) storage of sensitive data. It also supports application layers built on top of it, such as anti-counterfeiting and other health data security needs.
- Patient-generated data. Healthcare professionals are using more passive digital and biometric tracking technologies, as well as improved data analysis tools, to make better use of patient-generated data. These tools and technologies show exceptional promise in the mental health sector.
- Digital health interventions. The healthcare industry is beginning to use digital interventions to monitor and improve everything from sleep patterns to patient treatment. The goal is to improve patient outcomes while empowering individuals to fix chronic or acute health problems.
- Provider-centric solutions. Today’s medical providers can find the amount of required documentation overwhelming. Provider-centric solutions, such as wearing Google Glass to stream the doctor-patient interaction to a remote transcription center, seek to reduce the documentation workload. With less administrative work, doctors can devote their full attention to their patients.
Whether any of these healthcare trends significantly lowers costs (and increases the quality of care) in 2018 remains to be seen. However, the advances being made in the delivery of healthcare have never been more exciting. It will be interesting to watch the improvements in healthcare as these trends unfold.
Since 1984, DataPath has been at the forefront of healthcare trends with our revolutionary administrative solutions. Our cloud-based Summit platform empowers TPAs to break the boundaries of account-based benefits administration.