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We all know some of the complexity in healthcare is unavoidable. It takes a wide range of organizations to ensure patients are cared for, and it's no small task to understand their needs and balance their interests. But the last two years have been especially challenging for the healthcare industry, and a few particularly stubborn healthcare issues keep coming up repeatedly.

It seems like we've normalized the new normal – living in an unpredictable world coupled with an explosion of innovation that aims to solve challenges like the cost of medications, administrative inefficiency and gaps in patient information.

With that in mind, what should we expect to see in 2022? I recently shared with MedCity News what I'll be watching:

1. The interconnectedness of healthcare will take on greater urgency – and bring both opportunities and risks.

In the past two years, there have been dramatic shifts in employment, people's locations, insurance coverage, health conditions, behavioral needs and more. At the same time, the health care industry is rapidly changing as well. Health tech startups raised a record $15.3 billion in 2020, chain pharmacies and grocery stores are building full-service general practitioner offices, and new standalone healthcare services are increasingly entering the market.

I expect the industry to generate more patient data from more sources than ever before as providers address these shifts and patients' general care continues to evolve.

But the problem is, meaningful data isn't always available at the right time, in the right place, for the healthcare professionals who need it. A clear picture of patients and populations leads to better healthcare decisions—wherever they are made.

And as we push for greater interoperability and innovation in healthcare, we also need to keep raising the bar for secure, complete and accurate information. In 2021, Surescripts processed nearly 20 billion health information transactions, all based on data standards designed for nationwide interoperability and supported by continuous work to protect and improve the privacy, security and performance of our network.

2. But at the same time…interoperability alone won't be enough.

While the healthcare industry strives for greater healthcare interoperability, there will also be growing recognition that interconnectedness alone isn't enough. That's why I believe we'll see increased adoption of smarter technology built on advanced analytics in 2022.

Specifically, the healthcare industry will use clinical intelligence to combat healthcare professional burnout. For clinicians, balancing COVID-19 related duties and patient care with innumerable faxes, phone calls and communication issues are contributing to an epidemic of burnout.

Here at Surescripts, we’re getting clinical intelligence into the right hands at the right time through automating everything from specialty enrollment forms, admission, discharge and transfer (ADT) notifications, and even COVID-19 vaccine notifications.

Bringing actionable clinical intelligence into the care process in 2022 will also help address gaps in patient information and give providers and payers insights into events such as a patient going to a doctor, presenting at the hospital and being admitted or discharged.

By receiving notifications in their electronic health record (EHR) workflow, providers will be able to proactively follow up with patients experiencing significant care events that plague the system today, like lapses in care, missed care interventions and medication non-adherence. For example, patients whose outpatient care teams don't receive a timely hospital discharge summary are 10 times likelier to return to the hospital.

3. Convenient care and increasing patient control of their clinical history will become a permanent fixture.

Although there are reports of telehealth services leveling off, I believe telehealth will begin to pick up again as we continue to social distance to limit exposure to COVID-19. More providers have adopted virtual channels to serve their patients, and more and more individuals have tried (and now prefer) the convenience of provider consults via mobile devices. It may soon become a prerequisite for other patients, with some health plans beginning to require telehealth visits first.

Additionally, as individuals have become accustomed to telehealth services and tracking their own health data (especially vaccination records), they will also become more comfortable tracking other health and medication data. Next year we should expect more patients to realize the convenience of communicating their current health status just as they do their vaccine status.

With the use of Surescripts Medication History, prescribers and care teams can help patients avoid adverse drug events and readmission with a cleaner, more complete and intelligently enhanced picture of medications prescribed and dispensed. One health system used Surescripts Medication History to help reduce 30-day readmissions by 27% for high-risk patients into one program.

4. There will be continued tension across the system as we sort out the boundaries and lenses for meaningful price transparency.

Unsurprisingly, the cost of healthcare services, especially prescription drugs, is on the minds of patients, care providers, technology developers, legislators and more. An IQVIA study found that out-of-pocket costs for retail prescriptions and non-retail medicines increased $1 billion in 2020 to a record $77 billion. As legislators at the federal and state level try to reduce prescription drug costs, health IT and health providers are also pushing to address this problem.

As of October 2021, more than 550,000 prescribers were using Real-Time Prescription Benefit. It’s remarkable to see how quickly providers have embraced this new technology that was introduced just a few years ago. For context, it took nearly 10 years before this many prescribers were using electronic prescribing.

In 2022, we'll see more prescribers gain access to patient-specific prescription drug cost and coverage information at the point of care, so they can help patients get started on more affordable medication therapy. In the first nine months of 2021, Surescripts helped prescribers save their patients more than $21 million due to alternative drug and pharmacy channel recommendations generated by Real-Time Prescription Benefit.

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Momentum in Price Affordability

5. Health equity will influence care more systematically.

It's well known that socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment and social support networks, as well as access to healthcare, may impact our health more than our individual genetic code.

In 2022, we should expect to see more services emerge to make the collection and availability of data on social determinants of health more ubiquitous for healthcare professionals.

But achieving health equity will need a multi-faceted approach. Health organizations will increasingly look at tools that exist today and see how they can improve health equity. For example, by digitizing manual processes, like processing prior authorizations or enrolling patients in specialty medication treatment plans, care providers and payers can redirect resources to supporting essential community programs that address the social determinants of health for patients.

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Closing the Gaps In Healthcare Disparities

As we've normalized the unpredictability and rapid changes in this new normal, we recognized that the healthcare experience needs to be simple, with technology that's easy to access at the right time and intuitive to use. It needs to be intelligent, delivering not just raw data but insights that are tailor-made for the patient at that particular moment of care. It also has to be trusted, empowering care teams to act with confidence. And it has to be not just technically interoperable but proactively and automatically shared with everyone involved in-patient care.

I'm optimistic about the year ahead because the last two years have shown that the healthcare industry will continue to demonstrate resilience, adaptability and devotion to delivering care in the face of significant disruptions in healthcare and society at large.

A portion of this article previously appeared in MedCity News.

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