Guy Friedman, co-founder and CEO of SteadyMD

The past few years have seen upheavals in healthcare, and 2024 so far shows no signs of breaking that pattern.

While the fundamentals of healthcare remain the same – caregivers treating patients – the who, how and where are changing, driven by shifting demographics, evolving consumer preferences, technological advancements and revolutionary drugs.

My work with clinicians in all 50 states, as well as the organizations that utilize their expertise, provides a unique lens to evaluate the predominant trends of 2024. Here’s what we’re seeing:

GLP-1 disruption

Medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro and Zepbound prescribed for weight management are transforming healthcare and society this year. No less of an authority than Oprah Winfrey says so!

Oprah’s endorsement aside, these GLP-1 medications will not only improve the health of millions of Americans but could significantly reduce healthcare spending. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that obesity accounts for $147 billion in annual healthcare costs, an amount which could be greatly lowered through use of the new drugs. GLP-1 medications have also been shown to improve outcomes for patients with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Giving these patients the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives with less medical care required will benefit everyone.

The impact on society will be far-ranging, as well. For example, demand for fast food and groceries is expected to decline. Clothing sales could rise as those who lose weight shop for new wardrobes. It’s estimated that United Airlines alone could save $80 million a year in fuel costs if the average passenger weight dropped by just 10 pounds.

Of course, to have these effects the medications will have to be more affordable and widely available than they are now. But that will almost certainly happen as more pharmaceutical companies enter this market and the economies of scale take hold. 

However, widespread use of the GLP-1 medications poses a management challenge for the medical community. Weight loss through these drugs should be managed by a clinician, but there aren’t enough doctors available to meet the coming demand. A shortage of clinicians, combined with digital health companies’ telehealth-related technical and operational obstacles, could result in an abundance of patients self-managing the medications, leading to potentially overlooked adverse effects and other serious health risks.

For healthcare providers, forging relationships with partners whose teams of clinicians are experienced in GLP-1 medication management, as well as behavioral modification, nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle factors associated with weight management, is critical in 2024.

Non-traditional care delivery

Driven by a worsening physician shortage, society will become more flexible about who delivers healthcare and how.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. Clinicians are leaving the field at a record pace, due to burnout, aging and job dissatisfaction. This is happening at a time when the overall population is skewing older and needs more medical care.

As a result of this shortage, healthcare is broadening the roles of other care providers to fill the gap. Nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs), nurses and pharmacists are taking on additional duties and managing services traditionally delivered by doctors. A recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine concluded that adding more NPs and PAs could safely expand access to high-quality care. And new technology, such as remote patient monitoring, will pick up some of the slack.

To further expand access, NPs and other such providers who have prescriptive authority in their licensure states could be available through national telehealth networks, which would increase clinician capacity, access and productivity. The key to implementing this solution will be easing federal regulations so more providers can practice across state lines, and expanding the prescriptive authority of NPs and PAs in states that currently restrict them. 

With no easy fix to the physician shortage, expect healthcare systems to do more to keep clinicians satisfied and on the job longer. This will mean being more flexible about hours and working conditions, including allowing some to work via telehealth.

Telehealth and virtual care partnerships

In response to patient interest and to help providers, more healthcare organizations are integrating telehealth into their operations. However, many brick-and-mortar and digital health companies have learned from experience that building a digital health network from scratch or trying to add telehealth appointments to a provider’s already overbooked schedule is both difficult and expensive. The coming year will see more healthcare organizations partnering with backend infrastructure providers to power virtual clinician networks and/or supplement their on-site staff.

More provider organizations and digital companies will find that outsourcing virtual care operations enables them to quickly scale their offerings without taking on the risks and costs of internal development. By leveraging the expertise of partners skilled in building and operating clinician workforces, healthcare companies can shift their focus from recruiting, onboarding, credentialing and licensing clinicians to innovating on patient experience and expanding their service offering.

While healthcare will undoubtedly see changes on other fronts this year, I’m confident that these trends will have a major impact.

About Guy Friedman

Guy Friedman is co-founder and CEO of SteadyMD, a B2B telehealth infrastructure provider that powers high-quality telehealth patient experiences for leaders and innovators in healthcare in all 50 states. Guy earned a bachelor’s degree in quantitative economics and a master’s degree in economics from Tufts University, and his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.         

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