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Here are five trends all medical providers should watch for in 2024.

5 health-care industry trends for 2024, including AI and a focus on security

Nov. 20, 2023
A unique set of priorities has emerged for health care in 2024. What are they, and what's being done to address them?

According to a recent peer-reviewed study, health spending is projected to grow 5.4% from 2022-2031, and account for roughly 20% of the US economy by the end of that period. This would represent a welcome stabilization in the health-care industry following the pandemic and its aftermath. Yet, in 2023, profit margins of individual hospitals and health systems still presented a mixed picture

A unique set of priorities has emerged for 2024. New digital tools bring the potential to increase health equity and improve patient outcomes in financially strained regions. Expanded access to ACA-affiliated insurance plans also bodes well for access to basic health care. Meanwhile, the looming threats of digital cyberattacks and increased violence against health-care workers force providers to remain vigilant on multiple fronts.

You might also want to read: AI: Can it save you time in your dental hygiene day?

Here are five trends to watch in the business of health care in 2024.

Providers bringing AI into health care

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning tools have been gaining gradual acceptance in health care for several years, but the full range of practical benefits and applications have yet to be realized. A few early examples of AI adoption underscore a growing sentiment within the industry: the positives outweigh the negatives.

Take the example of coding. Without much heavy lifting, a medical coder can use an AI script to review 1,000 patient charts and flag any that meet certain criteria. In hospitals where coding errors have been costly, this is an especially useful time- and money-saving tool that reduces the burden on human coders. Such AI tools are relatively inexpensive, making them available to hospitals of all sizes and operating budgets.

The potential for biased datasets to exacerbate disparities in medical outcomes through the use of AI is beginning to get the attention it deserves. AI tools also have the potential to reduce disparities. Anyone with an internet connection can access ChatCPT and input a question focused on their personal health-care needs. Providers whose services are constrained by staffing shortages or long driving distances for patients within a broad area can educate patients on how to use an AI-based app to prescreen their symptoms at home.

Addressing health-care disparities

The effects of racial gaps in health care are well-documentedAfrican American communities are more vulnerable to severe weather and floods and are at higher risk to experience asthma as a result of polluted air than other communities. Black women suffer from three times the maternal mortality rate as white women. People of color face disproportionate barriers to accessing mental health services.

Adapting solutions to address these and other sources of health disparities will take on greater priority as a means to reducing the long-term burden on providers in socioeconomically disadvantaged regions. A May 2023 study estimated the cost of increasing health-care disparities on the US economy is $451 billion.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently recommended more aggressive data collection to identify risk factors—underlying health conditions, social factors, access to care―to support providers’ business initiatives. For example, CMS recommends using data “to support health-care organizations in building strategic relationships with other local community partners to better understand and meet patients’ unmet social needs.”

Expanded access to ACA insurance plans

One key driver in health-care disparities is access to basic coverage. As of 2021, Native Americans and Hispanics were twice as likely to be uninsured as whites, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. CMS recommends “addressing gaps related to health insurance network adequacy, opportunities to enroll in coverage, affordable, comprehensive coverage options, and provider availability and shortages.” 

Some progress is being made on that front. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, an additional 9.3 million people gained Affordable Care Act-related coverage plans between 2021 and 2023. About four in five individual ACA-related plan enrollees are now subsidized through policies included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. As awareness and access to these programs increase, look for ACA enrollment numbers to increase as well.

Preventing violence against health-care workers

More than one-third of health-care workers experienced some form of workplace violence between January 2020 and March 2022, according to a recent study. Health-care workers are trained to “always do no harm.” But what happens when they are in the difficult position of being the target of abuse―whether verbal or physical―from the patients and families they serve?

While rarely fatal, attacks against health-care workers are five times more common than in other workplaces. Post-traumatic symptoms among victims are common. To maintain the quality of the work environment for health-care staff and their patients, the American Association of Medical Colleges reports that hospitals are adapting their practices to prevent violent incidents before they arise.

As more hospitals experience this growing phenomenon firsthand, look for their policies and procedures to evolve in response. 

Focus on information security

In January, a data breach affecting nearly two million patients was the subject of a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts. Later that month, a $4.3 million settlement was agreed to in Montana. These cases came less than two years after a $6.85 million class-action settlement was reached, compensating more than 10 million patients in Washington and Alaska. 

What did each of these have in common? Sensitive medical information and other private data was accessed by hackers over a period of days, weeks, or months.

As health-care systems consolidate via mergers and acquisitions or consider reducing IT staff as part of cost-cutting measures, the importance of information security only increases. A data breach could be financially devastating to a health-care organization and could erode the public trust. Expect health-care systems to be more vigilant in the cat-and-mouse game between hackers and security providers in the future.

Hilton M. Hudson, MD, FACS, is a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Franciscan’s Michigan City and Olympia Fields health systems. He is also the CEO of HPC International, the leading educational purchased services supplier for health care, corporations, and academic institutions.