While 2020 was a challenging year, we’ve seen an acceleration of health innovation like never before. From April 2019 to April 2020, we saw an 8,366% increase in insurance claims for telehealth services, and U.S. virtual healthcare interactions are on pace to top 1 billion by year’s end. Likewise, we’ve seen employers place greater priority on employee health and wellness.

All of these changes have created an exciting opportunity for industry leaders, employers, and individuals to use this progress as a launching point to improve the workplace and employee wellbeing. As a healthcare entrepreneur, a CEO, and a fellow patient, I offer three predictions for ways that healthcare will improve in the year ahead and what it all means for the workplace:

1. We will finally break the stigma and embrace behavioral health. 
This year, quality mental healthcare will simply be considered “healthcare.” The reality is that 19% of U.S. adults experience a mental illness – an increase of 1.5 million people in the last year.

Studies also show that employees are not likely to share mental health concerns with their employer. According to a 2019 study by Businessolver, 68% of employees worry that reaching out to someone at work about a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security. And, although 50% of employees reported having a mental health lapse, only 33% of those employees notified their employer.

In 2021, we can expect industry leaders and employers to expand access to behavioral health resources that allow individuals to connect with a mental health professional when and where they feel most comfortable. Over the next few years, we also anticipate that employers will increasingly offer health insurance that allows people to connect with mental health experts online in an affordable and convenient way. Some companies may go as far as to allot “mental health days” alongside sick days, empowering employees to manage their mental health as needed.

2. Because of virtual care, fewer people will delay seeking care due to inconvenience and risk of exposure, resulting in a healthier workforce.
This year, there will be a greater focus on streamlining the healthcare experience and keeping healthy people out of facilities where they might get sick. The CDC estimates that 41% of U.S. adults have delayed care during the pandemic and in general, up to 92% of adults don’t receive recommended preventative care. This is likely connected to the fact that, on average, Americans spend over 20 minutes waiting to be seen by their doctor in-person. Now, more than ever, when we visit a doctor in-person we are not only thinking about the time that might be wasted in a waiting room, but that, it’s also 20 minutes of potential exposure to whatever ailments the other patients may have. 

The waiting room isn’t the only problem; the time it takes to get an appointment and travel to and from the doctor’s office are barriers to care as well. Some employees don’t have time to get away from work and will put off their healthcare, which can lead to serious health problems. By providing a more convenient and efficient experience, while reducing patients’ exposure to illnesses, telehealth will continue to emerge in 2021 as a preferred healthcare model.

As we reenter into the workplace, post-vaccine, we expect to see office spaces accommodating virtual doctor appointments by creating private spaces where employees can efficiently receive medical care. Instead of using sick days for a doctor’s appointment, employees can be treated right from work, unless, of course, they’re contagious, in which case they can be treated from the comfort of home. 

3. Policy changes will shape the future of the telehealth industry, and this legislation will directly affect workplaces and individuals alike. 
In addition to improving outcomes and cost savings, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must remove payment barriers to ensure the U.S. is a global leader in the future of healthcare technology and innovation. Currently, temporary policies have expanded access to telehealth during COVID-19. These temporary measures are vital to making healthcare accessible to those in need of remote care during the pandemic. If made permanent, these measures will help establish a precedent for virtual healthcare policy in the U.S. 

Healthcare is going digital across the globe, just like every other industry. As a country, we need to be at the forefront of that adoption to ensure U.S. companies have a market to create the technologies of the future. In the U.S. alone, clinical services represent an $800B market compared to U.S. internet advertising representing $125 billion. Google and Facebook are the leaders in internet advertising and have a nearly $2 trillion market cap, global influence, and employ hundreds of thousands of people. There will be even larger companies created in this digital transformation of healthcare, and the question we have to ask ourselves and our leaders is:  do we want it to be us or someone else?

Innovative policy changes don’t only make sense from a business standpoint, but also from a clinical and patient perspective and to ensure we have a healthy workforce a. Legislation that safely increases access to digital healthcare means more frequent doctor visits and improved healthcare outcomes, including disease prevention. 

While much remains unknown, 2020 has taught us not to take our health for granted. Let’s not return to “business as usual” when it comes to quality healthcare. By continuing to utilize the power of telehealth, we can create a better healthcare experience for employees, their families, and our invaluable doctors.