U.S. health care trends in 2014 were heavily influenced by the escalating effects of the Affordable Care Act and the increasing influence of technology on all areas of the health care industry. A growing primary care physician shortage and a movement toward bigger health care systems embracing a continuum of care concept will continue to shape the industry into 2015. Here is a look back at the top trends of 2014.
Large health care groups keep getting bigger. The 2014 health care trend toward mergers and acquisitions continues to produce large systems with lower operating costs. More extensive groups provide health care consumers with larger physician pools and more entry points, while new delivery systems help minimize the effects of the looming primary care physician shortage. Larger groups have more funds for branding and advertising, which are increasingly important to cost- and benefit-conscious health care consumers.
The Affordable Care Act has boosted the health care trend towards employer-provider partnerships. More companies are providing on-site clinics and private insurance exchanges. Partnerships between large employers and outside medical groups keep health care costs low and encourage employees to seek preventive services before problems arise. Sharing health care information on company websites and providing electronic health care advice is another way companies are working to keep their workforce healthy and informed.
Millenials are driving the health care trend toward more technology. High tech is permeating the industry in every area from health information to personal care devices to hospital delivery systems. In 2014, more patients than ever accessed health care advice through long-distance telehealth programs, virtual office visits and mobile health applications, and this movement is expected to grow in 2015. In some markets, electronic prescriptions have become the norm. On the business end, health care systems regularly use analytic software to analyze big data to fine-tune their delivery models.
Savvy consumers want information, and health care systems continue to deliver. Public access to the costs and benefits of medical procedures, drugs and preventive care have become common at provider and insurance websites, and in brochures available at doctors' offices, clinics and hospitals. Outside organizations also provide consumers with unbiased evidence on the effectiveness of medical procedures and medications, allowing them to make better health care decisions.
The health care trend toward job growth was a welcome sight in 2014. The fourth quarter alone saw the addition of an average of 36,000 jobs per month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The yearly growth rate was 2.1 percent, up from 1.7 percent the previous five years. The increase in jobs follows an increase in health care spending, which may be related to more insured Americans due to the Affordable Care Act. More analysis is necessary, but the health care industry is hopeful that the trend will continue into the future.
The top 2014 health care trends paint a positive picture for the industry moving into 2015. Look for greater technology, transparency and job growth in particular to revitalize health care for the next few years. Expect more job growth as the number of insured Americans continue to grow.
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