Locums News January 13, 2023

By Debra Wood, RN, Contributor

8 Key Healthcare Trends for 2023

The new year is bound to create opportunities for medical practice in 2023, as challenges persist both in clinical care and for the medical profession. Let’s look at some of the key healthcare trends experts are watching for in 2023.

8 Key Healthcare Trends Expected in 2023

1. Contending with a triple respiratory threat

As the country enters the third year of living with COVID-19, not only are clinicians caring for patients with the SARS-CoV-2 virus but also high levels of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are filling beds.

“The ‘tripledemic’ will continue to stretch our healthcare systems,” said David L. Feldman, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAPL, FACS, chief medical officer for The Doctors Company and TDC Group of California. “With fewer Americans wearing masks and social distancing and an established immunity gap, we can expect higher levels of respiratory diseases in 2023. This winter, the mix of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV will push our healthcare systems and care providers to the limit.”

Peter Kolbert, JD, senior vice president of claim and litigation services at Healthcare Risk Advisors, part of TDC Group, reported that his company is seeing a fair number of claims from COVID patients and their families, centering on whether they were given appropriate and timely treatment. “Most carriers and hospitals across the country have faced some of those claims, and we can expect that to continue to increase in 2023.”

2. Addressing clinician mental health

Continued pressure to treat large volumes of sick patients and administrative burdens have taken a toll on healthcare professionals and will continue to affect medical practice in 2023. Physicians and other clinicians are living with stress, frustration, and burnout.

A 2022 study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found a significant increase in physician burnout, 62.8 percent, as compared to 38.2 percent in a prior study in 2020. That research also showed higher emotional exhaustion and depersonalization scores in 2021. 

Recognizing and addressing clinician burnout and depression is expected to be a healthcare trend in 2023 and beyond. Last year, the National Academy of Medicine released the “National Plan for Health Workforce Well-Being,” outlining how the environment and delivery of healthcare must change to improve clinicians’ well-being and at the same time enhance the patient experience.

“Clinicians are tired of hearing that resilience is the key to burnout and staffing shortages,” Feldman said. “They are looking for more impactful structural changes,” he noted, including workflow and technology improvements that allow them more time for the human side of medicine.

3. Adjusting to a physician shortage

Many healthcare professionals are retiring early or transitioning into other roles, leading to physician shortages. The country will be short as many as 124,000 physicians by 2034, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

“While doctors are working/living longer and retiring later, the number of medical schools and residency programs hasn’t significantly increased,” Feldman said. “As the older physicians do start to retire, there won’t be enough younger physicians to replace them, and as the population gets older, more will need healthcare.”

4. Sharing the load with advance practice clinicians (APCs)

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants will fill some of the void caused by the physician shortage, according to AAMC.

“APCs are set to take on more of a primary role in the delivery of healthcare,” Feldman said. “With more and more states allowing APCs to practice independently, many see this as an impactful way to reduce burnout and increase access to care. However, questions remain on how this will impact patient outcomes.”

5. Adopting telehealth

The COVID pandemic introduced many physicians and patients to telehealth visits, something likely to continue as a healthcare trend for 2023.

“I think telehealth is becoming part of just about every doctor's practice,” Feldman said. “It's easier and nicer for patients.”

The growth in telehealth visits has also opened up more opportunities for locum tenens telehealth assignments, which are expected to remain popular in the year ahead.

6. Partnering for growth with margins down

Hospitals are continuing to operate in the red, with inpatient services adversely affecting margins, according to Chicago consulting firm KaufmanHall in December 2022.

“Health systems have seen unprecedented increases in operating costs,” explained Thom Herrmann, CEO of Intuitive Health in Plano, Texas. “Labor expenses alone have increased 37 percent since 2019 and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Unlike many other industries, healthcare systems cannot simply pass along their higher expenses to consumers, because prices are locked in multiyear contracts with payers and a fixed fee schedule with Medicare and Medicaid. This leaves them with very difficult decisions.” 

Herrmann indicated systems may cut discretionary expenses and nonclinical salaries, including eliminating many executive and middle management positions. But such cuts are not enough to offset the big expense increases. The only way out is growth.

“An increasing number of systems will look to outside service area experts to grow new profitable service lines via partnerships and joint ventures,” Herrmann said. “Outside operators can bring capital, service-specific expertise, and turnkey operational support to get new profitable services off the ground fast. In 2023 there will be an increase in the number of hospitals entering into joint ventures to grow profitable services like ambulatory surgery centers, urgent care centers, free-standing emergency departments, radiology centers, labs, etc. Thoughtful partnership selection can provide a low capital opportunity to speed up patient acquisition and profitability while limiting downside risk.”

7. Preparing for the next pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic raised the importance of public health, and one of the healthcare trends for 2023 is the creation of a new White House Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy, with as many as 25 staff members. The president will appoint a director, who will advise the president and coordinate a response to the threat.

The federal government also will increase spending for the national biomedical stockpile and build the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), created in 2022, to advance high-potential research aimed at developing breakthroughs, such as new vaccines, therapeutics, surveillance of biological threats and speed up pandemic responses. 

8. Recognizing changes associated with value-based care

Practicing medicine in 2023 will likely involve more value-based care rather than strictly fee-for-service payments.

A December 2022 McKinsey & Company report indicates greater use of value-based payment models and estimates that the value-based care market could reach $1 trillion for “payers, providers, and investors.” The report credits increased interest by physicians for driving this growth.

Clinicians can expect greater corporate investment in primary care, such as the CVS Health acquisition of Signify Health, as a result of the opportunity to “generate substantial profits” with total-cost value-based care, according to a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Many of the healthcare trends for 2023 represent a continuation of changes already felt by medical practices and health systems, but as always, the new year will likely hold some surprises. 

Staff Care, part of AMN Healthcare, specializes in placing physicians and advanced practitioners in locum tenens assignments across the U.S.

 

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