The year 2021 proved to be as unsettling as the one before it, to say the least. Still in the throes of the pandemic, the nation has witnessed dramatic shifts in health care. For example, telehealth utilization skyrocketed at the height of the pandemic, with over 32% of total outpatient visits occurring via telehealth. While utilization has since subsided, levels have stabilized at 13-17% of total outpatient visits.
As COVID-19 continues to rage, healthcare workers across America have experienced alarming levels of professional stress and burnout. In a recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,327 front-line health care workers in the U.S. during the pandemic, 55% reported burnout (defined as mental and physical exhaustion from chronic workplace stress), with the highest rate (69%) among the youngest staff — those aged 18-29. That same age group also reported the highest negative impact of the pandemic on their mental health (75%), although a majority of all health care workers (62%) reported some mental health repercussions. As a result of the pandemic, mental health awareness continues to burn bright on the radar.
On the patient front, many individuals have either delayed or completely skipped routine medical care, recommended cancer screenings, and even emergency treatment of acute conditions. While this isn’t surprising given social distancing and the fear of getting COVID-19, not paying heed to one’s health now may result in significant consequences later.
So… what’s on the horizon?
Notwithstanding the devastating impact of COVID-19, the outlook is positive for 2022. Here are four trends to keep an eye on this year:
Trend #1: Focus on Prevention Over Disease
The notion that it’s far better to prevent disease than to treat people after they get sick is taking stronger hold as we move into 2022. Consider chronic conditions, which are the nation’s leading causes of death and disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual health care expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions. Preventing chronic diseases, or managing symptoms when prevention is not possible, can significantly reduce these costs.
Most health plans today cover preventative services at no cost to their members. Many are also offering supplemental benefits to diagnose, treat or prevent illness or injuries. For example, in 2020, Medicare Advantage health plans began offering Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI) — aimed at individuals with one or more chronic conditions — where benefits don’t have to be primarily health-related, as long as the item or service can reasonably improve or maintain health or function of the enrollee. Some SSBCI benefits include food and produce, meals (beyond a limited basis), transportation for non-medical needs, and social needs benefits.
Specifically in the case of meals (beyond a limited basis), where home-delivered meals are sent to health plan members with chronic conditions, many studies to date have shown remarkable results — like fewer hospitalizations, shorter lengths of stay for those who are hospitalized, and fewer emergency room visits.
How is Mom’s Meals® contributing to disease prevention?
Mom’s Meals works with heath plans to advance the shift to disease prevention by adding a chronic care meals program to help their vulnerable members better manager a chronic condition and stay out of the hospital.
Trend #2: Health Equity
Health equity, when all members of society enjoy a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, is predicted to be a key theme in 2022. Health equity has become ever more apparent amidst the pandemic, as many studies have shown COVID-19 disproportionately impacts historically marginalized and low-income groups, and these groups experience barriers that lead to poorer health overall than other parts of the population. Continuing to address social determinants of health — or the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age — will be essential for achieving health equity in 2022.
How is Mom’s Meals helping to achieve health equity?
Mom’s Meals is helping to advance health equity by addressing the unmet nutritional needs of health plan members and by promoting positive health outcomes.
Trend #3: Focus on Mental Health
The mental health crisis in the U.S. has received considerable attention since the start of pandemic. Not only have professional stress and burnout been common, but researchers have also observed increases in substance use and drug overdoses. According to the CDC, between April 2020 and April 2021, fatalities related to substance abuse reached a 12-month all-time high, at 100,000 people.
In 2022, mental health is predicted to take center stage, particularly when it comes to employers offering benefits. At the start of the pandemic, about 39% of employers updated their health plans to expand access to mental health services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey. The focus on mental health is expected to expand, with businesses continuing to work on providing mental health services and programs to support the emotional well-being of their workers.
How is Mom’s Meals addressing mental health?
Caregivers and families of individuals with chronic conditions often get overwhelmed when it comes to helping their loved ones successfully manage their chronic disease. Through home-delivered meals, Mom’s Meals helps to support the nutritional needs of vulnerable individuals while lowering the stress and burden on them and their caregivers and families.
Trend #4: Virtual Care
Providers continue to embrace technology to help improve patient outcomes. McKinsey & Company reported that 58% of physicians continue to view telehealth more favorably now than they did before COVID-19, though perceptions have come down slightly since September 2020 (64% of physicians). As of April 2021, 84% of physicians were offering virtual visits, and 57% would prefer to continue offering virtual care.
In fact, virtual health care models and business models have been expanding from virtual “urgent care” to a range of services enabling longitudinal virtual care, integration of telehealth with other virtual health solutions, and hybrid (virtual/face-to-face) care models — with the potential to improve consumer experience, convenience, access, outcomes and affordability.
How is Mom’s Meals embracing virtual care?
Since the start of the pandemic, many case managers have been virtually screening their clients regarding their nutritional needs. They’re successfully capturing the information they need to determine if their members require nutritional support to help them recover after a hospital discharge, manage a chronic condition or stay in their homes longer and avoid moving to a nursing facility. Mom’s Meals works closely with case managers to launch home-delivered meals benefits for members in need.
As 2022 unfolds, Mom’s Meals is eager to watch these four trends and witness how the world of health care will transform in the course of this year.