Healthcare media highlights - January 2024

Healthcare media highlights - January 2024

The Briefing

08 January 2024
10 minute read

  Key highlights

  • As the new JN.1 COVID variant spreads around the globe, healthcare organizations continue to explore new policies and technologies to keep the virus under control. 

  • Hospital mergers are happening frequently due to challenging economic conditions, and the FTC is closely watching. 

  • Healthcare data breaches are also increasing in frequency, posing security risks for patients and providers. Many providers have faced lawsuits over inadequate cybersecurity practices, which can lead to data breaches. 

  • With strikes and layoffs on the rise, some health systems are turning to telemedicine as a solution to staffing challenges.  

  • New healthcare laws go into effect throughout the United States this month, many of which address reproductive issues and gender-affirming care.

COVID-19 remains a concern with new variants and evolving management policies. 

COVID-19 became endemic in May 2023, more than three years after the disease was first reported in China. However, preventing and treating the virus remains a concern for healthcare providers, especially as new variants emerge. 

In late December, the World Health Organization labeled the new JN.1 variant a “variant of interest”. By December 23rd, JN.1 accounted for 39 to 50% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the CDC. This variant does not appear to have different symptoms from previous variants, but early research indicates that it may be more transmissible

The Briefing-healthcare-2-blog1

With the endemic nature of COVID-19, researchers are using technology to better track and treat these new variants. A recent study published in PNAS Nexus examined the potential of a new AI algorithm to predict the severity of new COVID-19 variants. This algorithm was trained on 9 million SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences from 30 countries. The study indicated that the algorithm successfully detected 72.8% of variants after a week of use. 

Healthcare and government organizations have also had to develop new policies to support the general population as we collectively navigate this health challenge. Recent research from Health Affairs tracks COVID-19 policies around the world, identifying patterns and highlighting areas for improvement. This tracker identified that refugees, asylum seekers, incarcerated people, and migrant workers were often excluded from COVID-19 relief policies. 

Hospital merger rates continue to increase, prompting concerns about healthcare prices and accessibility. 

The rate of mergers and acquisitions among hospitals and health systems is predicted to increase in 2024. Healthcare mergers have been slowly increasing over the past decade due to increased financial pressure and the strain of COVID-19 on hospitals. However, mergers pose serious concerns about increasing service costs and decreased access to care, particularly in areas that are already underserved. Studies from the FTC indicate that hospital mergers result in prices that are 40 to 50% higher than if the two entities had not merged. 

One merger to close this January is the integration of BJC HealthCare of St. Louis and Saint Luke’s Health System of Kansas City. This $10 billion merger is notable in that it merges systems in two different geographical markets. Other recent notable mergers include Jefferson and Lehigh Valley Health in Pennsylvania, Froedtert and ThedaCare in Wisconsin, and Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego and Children’s Hospital of Orange County in southern California. 

The FTC has been closely monitoring these mergers. Recent reports indicate that the FTC challenged 50 mergers across all industries in 2022, including six healthcare deals. 

The rate of healthcare data breaches is increasing, with serious consequences for patients and providers. 

Healthcare data breaches and cyberattacks have been increasing in frequency in recent years. There was a 239% increase in large healthcare data breaches between 2018 and 2022, with another 60% increase from 2022 and 2023. This trend continues into 2024 as several notable healthcare providers have been targeted by attacks. 

The Briefing-healthcare-2-blog2

Kentucky-based Norton Healthcare announced in mid-December that they had been targeted by a ransomware attack earlier in 2023. This attack exposed sensitive data for 2.5 million people. In late November, Ardent Health Services was forced to take its entire electronic health record system offline after being targeted by a ransomware attack. 

Many of these attacks can be attributed to inadequate cybersecurity strategies at major hospitals, and they have serious repercussions for patients. For example, the Ardent Health Services breach forced their hospitals to divert emergency care to other providers for nearly two weeks, minimizing access to critical medical care. 

Failing to implement an effective cybersecurity strategy can be extremely costly for healthcare providers. For example, Ohio-based Salem Community Hospital and Perry Johnson & Associates, their medical transcription vendor, are now facing a class action lawsuit as a result of a 2023 data breach. The lawsuit alleges that the hospital failed to take appropriate cybersecurity measures and neglected to inform affected patients in a timely manner. 

Even when a data breach doesn’t occur, poor cybersecurity practices can lead to lawsuits. For example, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital recently settled a lawsuit for using third-party applications that disclosed protected patient information. 

Get the key highlights of the healthcare industry directly to your mailbox.


Telehealth services will evolve in 2024 as provider shortages continue

Healthcare systems throughout the United States have struggled with staffing over the past three years due to a variety of socioeconomic challenges. 

Many healthcare providers have struggled to attract qualified providers, and challenging post-COVID work conditions have led many healthcare providers to go on strike. There have been more than 27 healthcare strikes across the United States over the past year. These strikes aren’t just limited to hospital systems. Over 1,000 workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan went on strike from September to November 2023. 

The Briefing-healthcare-2-blog3

Tough economic conditions also forced hospitals and health systems throughout the US to lay off portions of their workforce in 2023 - a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down in 2024. Blue Shield of California is the latest health organization to announce layoffs, letting 140 employees go in the first week of January. 

Many providers are exploring telehealth options as a way to continue to provide service with limited staff. Asynchronous telemedicine options would allow providers to complete patient intake more efficiently and even provide treatment for common conditions online. 

For example, a patient might fill out an intake questionnaire online using a secure platform. Medical staff would then review these questionnaires throughout the day, recommending in-person visits for those who need them and providing prescriptions or other treatments virtually when possible. This approach allows each provider to work with more patients each day and remain productive, even during periods of short-staffing. 

Telehealth services are particularly effective for providing mental health care to underserved populations that can’t access in-person therapy or psychiatry. However, DEA restrictions currently limit psychiatrists from prescribing certain drugs via telemedicine. Groups like the American Telemedicine Association have urged the DEA to relax these rules to ensure that patients can access the treatment they need.

New state healthcare laws go into effect this month, addressing hot-button issues like reproductive health and gender-affirming care. 

New state laws throughout the US went into effect on January 1st. Many of these laws focused on the healthcare industry - some expanded access to care, while others imposed limitations or new regulations. 

Many of these laws addressed highly debated issues, most notably access to gender-affirming care and reproductive care. West Virginia and Louisiana have both enacted laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors. The West Virginia law includes some exceptions, while the Louisiana law does not. Idaho also amended previous legislation to prohibit surgical or medical intervention involving the patient’s genitals, which could limit access to care for both transgender and cisgender patients. 

Many states also expanded access to birth control and other forms of reproductive care this year. Pharmacists in New Jersey and Rhode Island will now be able to dispense hormonal contraceptives without a prescription, joining 29 other states and Washington, D.C. 

Finally, some states have enacted new legislation to improve working conditions within the healthcare industry. The minimum wage for healthcare workers in California will increase to $23 on June 1st, 2024, and will increase to $25 by 2026. Washington also signed a law requiring hospitals to establish staffing committees and submit staffing plans to the state for approval. This is designed to minimize current healthcare shortages. 

Opportunities for deeper insight

Despite incredible innovation in the healthcare sector, many medical providers are still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. The biggest challenge for hospitals moving forward will be adapting to a tech-driven world in an economically volatile market. To thrive in this challenging time, healthcare organizations will need to understand how changing conditions affect patient experiences and find ways to innovate in the constraints of the current landscape. 

Areas of particular interest include:

  • Mergers: How can hospitals conduct financially-necessary mergers without compromising patient experiences?

  • Cybersecurity: How can healthcare providers use cybersecurity strategies to build patient trust?

  • Telehealth: Do telehealth systems make care more efficient for all parties? How can healthcare providers implement telehealth in a safe and cost-effective manner?  

If you're interested in launching a study on these topics, or others, we'd be happy to partner with you.

Contact us

Related Posts

- Technology

Technology media highlights - December 2023

- Financial Services

Financial services media highlights - November 2023

- Automotive

Automotive media highlights - December 2023