The resiliency of the US health system was put to the test in 2021. The trials and tribulations of fighting COVID-19 proved that recovery from the pandemic is a journey — not a destination. Amid the vaccine rollout, a series of COVID-19 waves continues to crash against a healthcare system already flooded by economic uncertainty, clinician burnout, and hospital closures. In 2022, a surge of workforce shortages will sweep across the healthcare industry. Anti-vaccine activism and misinformation will intensify over the next few months, resulting in widespread vaccine resistance. A seismic shift of remote care modalities like virtual care for behavioral health and hospital-at-home will help the healthcare industry weather some of the storm.

In 2022, we predict that:

  • Health disparities will harm rural Americans at twice the rate of urban Americans. The federal push to bridge the gap between underserved populations and access to care is underway, but it won’t be enough to achieve health equity for all. Fifty-seven million people in rural and tribal communities will face increased mortality as a result of social inequalities, multiple chronic health conditions, high suicide rates, dire physician shortages, and sweeping hospital closures. According to Rural Policy Research Institute’s (RUPRI) latest brief, metropolitan areas saw a seven-day average COVID-19 mortality rate of 0.41 compared with an average death rate of 0.85 in rural communities in mid-September. Larger federal investments in virtual care services, license portability, and reimbursement policy updates are critical to catalyze universal clinician engagement and overcome the digital divide.
  • Healthcare will exit the “trusted category” as misinformation and cyberattacks persist. The spread of false health information, shortcomings in data integrity, and the politicization of science will unseat healthcare from its standing as a trusted industry. Continued erosion of trust in healthcare institutions will force more clinics to shutter and threaten population health as patients avoid treatment for their conditions. Misinformation has permeated social media and even platforms built for clinicians. Righting the ship in 2022 will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, including coordination between those working in public health research and practice, public policy, and cybersecurity.
  • The number of hospitals that deliver care at home will triple. The lessons learned by hospital facilities echoed the importance of surge planning along with a need for establishing a method of delivering acute care outside its walls. In its first year of implementation, the hospital-at-home model proved to be a viable solution for managing an insurmountable influx of patients, the spread of infectious disease, and the safety of staff and patients. Hospital-at-home services gained the greatest momentum in 2021. The CY 2022 Home Health Prospective Payment System proposed rule will accelerate the shift of payment for Medicare home health services from volume- to value-based. Investments in health firms building hospital-at-home programs will be bolstered by robust marketing efforts, ultimately tripling the number of hospital-at-home providers in 2022. Last year, we made the prediction that house calls will make a comeback as hospital-at-home services surge. Today, in this new paradigm of healthcare, there are 82 hospital systems and 186 hospitals in 33 states approved for Medicare reimbursement.

Which of our 2022 Predictions will have the greatest impact on your organization, and how will you prepare for new challenges and opportunities ahead? Read our report for more details on what 2022 has in store for healthcare. To understand the major dynamics that will impact firms across other industries next year, visit Forrester’s Predictions 2022.