Looking Ahead: What We Know – and Don’t Know – About 2023

Alan Shoebridge is an HCNW At-Large Director and the Associate Vice President for National Communication at Providence. He leads a diverse, multi-state communication team responsible for internal communication, public relations, issues management, labor relations and DE&I initiatives. Alan has also held senior marketing and communication leadership roles at Kaiser Permanente and Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System.y 2023

By Alan Shoebridge, Assoc. Vice President for National Communication at Providence & HCNW At-Large Director

For the last three years, almost every article looking ahead to the new year offered some type of prediction that healthcare would return to what it looked like prior to the pandemic. Nobody is saying that about 2023. Disruption on many levels is here to stay.

 What does that mean for the new year? It’s likely that healthcare communicators will again be dealing with periods of opportunity and chaos. Just like the last three years, we will be tasked with helping organizations move through that uncertainty toward the future.

WHAT WE KNOW

Let’s start off easy. Although much is uncertain about the future of healthcare – and that has always been the case – there are three predictions we can make with confidence for 2023.

Staffing shortages will continue

Not having enough staff – physicians, nurses, techs and more – is a multi-dimensional problem that impacts all aspects of clinical operations. Internally, employee morale suffers fueling turnover and impacting patient experiences. For patients and consumers, long wait times for appointments and subpar clinical experiences cause frustration and weaken brand reputations.

Staffing has been a concern for many years, but COVID accelerated the crisis. Reversing the trend is going to be complicated and take years of effort.

Finances will remain shaky

Most people expected that 2022 would be a rebound year financially, but a recovery never materialized for non-profit healthcare organizations. Throughout the year, most hospitals operated with negative margins every month. Some experienced slight improvements during the summer; however, poor performance returned in the fall.

One of the main culprits behind the fourth-quarter downturn was the “tripledemic” of flu, COVID and RSV. Once again emergency rooms were packed, employees were out sick in record numbers, and elective procedures had to go on hold.

The situation is unlikely to stabilize in the first quarter of 2023. A full financial recovery might take even longer. If that’s the case, we are likely to see additional facility and service closures.

There will be more choices for care

COVID might have been the disruption our industry did NOT see coming, but new entrants into the healthcare space have been on our radar for almost a decade. At this point, it’s almost easier to ask who isn’t interested in disrupting healthcare rather than who is.

The list of “disruptive” companies and ideas is long: remote care, hospital at home, wearables, artificial intelligence, Amazon, Apple, Walmart, etc. The list will get longer in 2023.

 Overall, these disruptors will seek to make care more personal and convenient. Yet, relationships with providers do still matter, especially for people dealing with complex or chronic conditions. That’s an advantage for established healthcare providers, but we’ll have to be more nimble, and make choices easier for patients and consumers.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

What you will likely notice about the three questions below is that many of us have been asking them for quite some time. Will 2023 be the year that the answers matter more than ever? Perhaps.

 What actions will politicians take?

 Although nothing major – like a full-scale repeal of the ACA or approval of Medicare for All – is likely to happen at the federal level, healthcare will remain a hot topic for state legislators.

 In the Pacific Northwest, safe nursing staff ratios for hospitals and financial assistance policies will certainly be under discussion.

Will telemedicine be a true game-changer?

Telemedicine took off during the pandemic with hundreds of virtual appointments replacing traditional office visits for many services. New services were offered in record time. A revolution had happened – or so we thought.

Skepticism of telehealth from physicians became clear as the public health emergency subsided. There are many reasons for this ranging from reimbursement to schedule management to effectiveness. However, the demand from patients for virtual care options is clearly there. Although we might not see much new happen in 2023, it seems inevitable for more care to be delivered virtually.

Will value-based care (finally) gain more traction?

Fee-for-service care still is the dominant model of reimbursement that funds the ability for hospitals to provide care to the entire community, including the uninsured. Pressure from payers to move to new models has not driven change at the levels expected.

 The future of value-based care remains murky, but with healthcare costs continuing to rise year over year, at some point new models will get traction. However, making significant progress in 2023 seems unlikely.

WHAT CAN COMMUNICATORS DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL

Next year is going to be challenging. There’s no getting around that. So, what is the plan to be successful? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Develop a high-level plan for the year, but expect to change it often. Be flexible.
  • Target your messages to your audiences and address their pain points and needs. This is especially important for internal communication.
  • Maximize your owned channels. With media industry layoffs, successful pitches are going to be more difficult – and rare – than ever. You’ll have to rely more heavily on email, apps, newsletters, and social media to get the word out.

In addition to these three areas, it will be critical to address burnout. Our profession has been hit hard during the pandemic. It’s important to embrace periods of downtime when they occur. In addition, we need to work with leaders to prioritize work and ensure there is alignment on goals. That’s vital when teams are stretched thin.

And don’t forget to connect with others experiencing the same challenges. That’s what makes an organization like Healthcare Communicators Northwest so important. Best of luck to all of you in 2023, and let’s continue to support each other.

Alan Shoebridge is an HCNW At-Large Director and the Associate Vice President for National Communication at Providence. He leads a diverse, multi-state communication team responsible for internal communication, public relations, issues management, labor relations and DE&I initiatives. Alan has also held senior marketing and communication leadership roles at Kaiser Permanente and Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System.

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