With the start of a new year, we can’t help but wonder which healthcare trends are in store for 2018. Coming off an interesting 2017, the next twelve months looks to be even more exciting. This year, attempts to manage escalating insurance and medical costs are at the center of industry trends. Contributing to the 2018 healthcare trends, these components will likely have the most impact: Health Reimbursement Arrangements, wellness programs, and innovative technologies.
2018 Healthcare Trends
Health Reimbursement Arrangements
Over the past few years, Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) – a key piece of healthcare consumerism – have been gaining in popularity. An HRA is a tax-advantaged benefit plan that is funded and set up by employers to help their employees pay for healthcare expenses. Employers determine contribution amounts, which IRS-approved expenses are eligible for reimbursement, and reimbursement claim requirements. Plan details can vary from employer to employer, but each plan has a Summary Plan Description (SPD). Employees can use the funds for themselves and their dependents.
In addition to standard HRAs, there are qualified small employer HRAs (QSEHRAs). The Cures Act, which was signed into law in December 2016, allows small employers to establish HRAs for their employees. QSEHRAS can be used to pay for non-group plan health insurance premiums, in addition to other employer- and IRS-approved expenses. To offer a QSEHRA, employers must not offer a group health plan and employ fewer than 50 full-time employees.
Another healthcare trend for 2018 is the continued rise of wellness programs. Wellness programs, often a feature of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), represent one of the more successful components for lowering medical costs through preventive health management.
Wellness programs focus on assisting people improve their health through better lifestyle choices. For a tailored approach, a wellness program may start with a health screening, then offer specific solutions to address any identified health problems. A wellness program could include exercise and weight-loss regimens, smoking cessation programs, and diabetes management plans.
Employers often sponsor wellness programs in hopes of a healthier workforce. This could translate to lower healthcare costs, fewer sick days, and more productivity. Some companies encourage enrollment and participation in company wellness programs with cash, discounts on products and services, gym memberships and other types of incentives. However, to get the highest participation rate, research has found that offering comprehensive programs work best.
Technology and Digital Healthcare
The constant demand for the latest and greatest in technology could have the greatest impact on healthcare in 2018. Innovations in digital technology are spurring a rise in data management and improving the delivery of medical care. Here are a few technology-based healthcare trends for 2018 that show a lot of promise:
- Patient-generated data. Patient-generated data is becoming more popular inside and outside of medical clinics. Healthcare professionals are using more passive digital and biometric tracking technologies, as well as improved data analysis tools, to make better use of patient-generated data. In addition, with mobile apps and devices that track heart rates and step counts, people are keeping tabs on their overall health and fitness away from the doctor.
- Digital health interventions. The healthcare industry is beginning to use web-based digital interventions for a wide range of purposes. Patient portals, integrated devices, and e-learning platforms help increase patient engagement and monitor everything from sleep patterns to patient treatments. Through greater efficiency, accessibility, and engagement, patients feel empowered to improve their outcomes.
- Provider-centric solutions. The amount of paperwork that today’s medical providers have to handle can be overwhelming. Provider-centric solutions, such as wearing Google Glass to stream the doctor-patient interaction to a remote transcription center, help reduce the documentation workload. Doctors can then devote more of their attention to their patients.
It will be a while before we learn the impact on lowering healthcare costs from these 2018 healthcare trends. As the year progresses, it will be interesting to see how these trends improve healthcare as a whole.