The pandemic has had a profound impact on every industry, and almost two years after it began, healthcare organizations are still grappling with some of the same challenges they faced when it started.
For providers, staffing challenges are particularly acute with a tightening labor market.
Hospitals are facing increasing turnover, widespread burnout and staff members calling in sick. More spending on salaries, bonuses and other incentives to recruit and retain staff are key issues unlikely to abate anytime soon amid a "Great Resignation."
And traveling agencies are driving up wages as they lure nurses away from their traditional posts by offering significantly higher pay, posing an obstacle many providers are looking to overcome sooner rather than later.
While hospitals are expected to face continued pressure on profit margins as expenses climb, payers too face challenges in the coming year.
They will likely deal with continued shifts in payer mix as emergency policies that helped swell Medicaid coverage wane.
Pandemic-era legislation helped protect against coverage losses when states were barred from removing Medicaid enrollees from coverage during the duration of the public health emergency. The PHE is expected to end sometime this year and insurers are bracing for states to restart determining who is eligible for Medicaid coverage.
As some people continue to put off care, that poses a risk to payers with a member base that is not only sicker but also has more advanced and complex illnesses.
While some are returning for care they've put off, the pandemic massively disrupted volume trends and much of that patient traffic is still below pre-pandemic levels.
Insights into continued lagging volumes for certain services are raising some alarms, like oncology trends.
Concerning breast cancer treatment, "at every step along the care journey, we're still not anywhere near pre-pandemic rates," said Lance Grady, leader of Avalere's market access practice, during a recent online presentation.
Some forms of care, though, have shifted to virtual platforms, especially at the start of the pandemic when telehealth use skyrocketed.
Telehealth use has since fallen from record highs with uptake fluctuating in areas based on COVID-19 surges, though investor interest in virtual care has not waned.
Mental telehealth services are becoming increasingly popular as a relatively easy and inexpensive avenue to receive therapy and other treatments, resulting in skyrocketing investments in such services.
Market watchers also see digital therapeutics, personalized medicine, provider-focused infrastructure and chronic condition management as particularly ripe for continued investment.
Some of those tools aim to alleviate some of the biggest stressors on the medical system right now, such as physician shortages, by enabling patients to receive care asynchronously and remotely, without doctors having to constantly monitor the apps.
U.S.-based digital health startups brought in almost $30 billion in 2021, nearly doubling the total investment from the prior year. Investors and market watchers are wary on making firm forecasts that 2022 will break 2021's record, but most are optimistic.
"It's hard to see what could stop it," said Marc Albanese, senior director of research for healthcare and emerging tech at market intelligence firm CB Insights.