The top issues for health systems leaders in 2020

Digital investments are top of mind for health systems leaders in 2020, according to a new report from PwC Health Research Institute.

The report asked executives from across healthcare organizations about the top heath industry issues for 2020, examining the relationship between digital investments, care delivery and cost. PwC’s HRI also delved into the challenges surrounding the ever-increasing importance of data. HRI surveyed 3,5000 American consumers, 300 provider executives, 100 payer executives and 100 executives from pharmaceutical and life sciences companies.

Digital opportunities and concerns emerged as the top issue for 2020, but not without challenges. Executives cited issues with, poor reliability data protection and privacy regulations, an inability to adequately protect and secure information as well as a lack of analytical talent as the top barriers to monetizing their data. And looking to 2020, executives are more focused on finding better ways to use their organization’s data.

One of the biggest ways that healthcare organizations will optimize their data is through digital upskilling and investing in emerging technologies––26% of payer executives, 33% of providers executives and 26% of pharma/life sciences executives cited this as their top workforce strategy for 2020.

Pharma and life sciences executives ranked using technology for tasks previously performed by employees as their top priority for 2020 (28%), while only 12% of payer executives and 23% of provider executives said the same. For payer executives, hiring employees with skills to support new capabilities, products or services was the top priority for 2020 (27%), compared to 14% of provider executives and 24% of pharma/life sciences executives.

2020 highlights

Beyond digital changes, executives are preparing for healthcare changes associated with the upcoming 2020 elections. With several Medicare for all proposals on the table from a handful of Democratic presidential candidates, the U.S. healthcare system could be in for major changes in the near future. However, the 2020 elections bring more uncertainty to the table.

In addition, policy changes are coming much slower than new regulations at the same time that healthcare spending is rising. In 2020, national healthcare expenditures are expected to reach $4 trillion. The Trump administration has also leveraged its regulatory power to undermine the Affordable Care Act in several ways.

“Regulation is perhaps more important than legislation right now,” Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, told HRI.

No matter the election turnout, healthcare providers can likely count on the continued march away from fee-for-service and toward value-based care, HRI noted.

Consumers and executives alike are bracing for higher healthcare prices in 2020 and through a “looming tsunami,” leading many to seek out “creative ways to finance care, spread risk and ensure that their money is paying for value,” the report reads.

For payers and employers, emerging treatments such as gene therapies with sky-high price tags are a top concern for 2020. These types of treatments have enormous potential to improve and save lives, but they are limited to a small population and can cost millions. However, by 2030, an estimated 500,000 Americans will have been treated with gene and cell therapies, according to one projection, and the FDA is expected to receive 200 investigational drug applications for these therapies in 2020. In other words, these costly treatments could proliferate in the coming years, leaving payers and employers on the hook.

To combat high healthcare costs, organizations are making moves to make care more affordable to patients, including directing patients to lower-cost care options, offering payment plans without interest, offering healthcare credit cards, offering loans that waive interest if all payments are made on time, and more. All these options are not only ways to ensure revenue flow for healthcare organizations, but also to provide a better patient experience opportunity.

“The billing and payment experience can help or harm an organization’s reputation with consumers,” the report notes.

Some payers, such as UnitedHealthcare, are looking at ways to shift patients toward lower-cost care settings. Others states and drug companies are coming up with plans that offer a flat-fee for a year’s worth of treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries and public charges.