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Healthcare In 2021: Five Trends To Watch

Published in: Health Affairs
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History gives us many reasons to doubt predictions. In 1916, Charlie Chaplin famously called the motion pictures “a fad.” In 1932, Albert Einstein said that nuclear power was not possible. In 2008, Steve Ballmer predicted the iPhone would be a flop. As these cases show, smart people may see the facts, but not the environmental factors that can shift the entire landscape.

This was particularly true in 2020, a year that redefined “normal” and altered our world in ways we are only beginning to understand. In this environment, the hard job of accurately predicting future trends became that much more difficult. When I look back at my own predictions last year, almost none of them played out as I thought due to the pandemic and the complete upending of the national health care agenda.

But now 10 months in, the pandemic’s true impact is starting to be understood. For 2021, job number one for the nation will be moving ahead with the largest mass vaccination program in our history, as well as improving our rapid testing capabilities and therapeutic treatments for COVID-19, in order to build our herd immunity and allow us to safely reopen and repair our badly damaged economy. This backdrop will permeate all our decisions this year, and directional trends will largely be influenced by how quickly we make progress in these areas.

Assuming that we do make these great strides in lessening the societal impact of COVID-19 and move to a new normal, I think we will begin to make some key shifts that will ultimately improve health care’s cost, quality, reliability, and underlying data infrastructure.

What follows are the five main trends that could usher in change, and some advice about how to prepare.

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