The year in health care, according to our payer, provider and IT readers

At SmartBrief, our editors and writers sift through hundreds of health care stories each day to determine what matters most to our readers in the payer, provider and health IT industries.  Through this process alone, we learn a lot, but perhaps the most interesting part of all is looking at what interests our readers.  

Sometimes it’s exactly what you’d expect. Amazon-JPMorgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway and their partnership that seeks to disrupt health care? That got a lot of interest. This venture brings together some heavyweight companies and a major disrupter – it’s sure to impact our readers’ professional lives. Similarly, CVS-Aetna and other major unions were hot topics.

Appropriate use of medical testing and procedures, hospital quality, digital transformation, and the leaders making a real difference in this space were some other most-clicked pieces across our suite of payer, provider and health IT publications.

Sometimes reader selections seem to be less about their work in health care, unless perhaps used as water-cooler fodder. A perennial favorite among some readers in one segment of the industry involves the health benefits (or lack thereof, depending on the week) of coffee and alcoholTwo-headed animals and adorable baby animals (especially “oops” babies) are also hot topics, for those in the animal health segment. Even dedicated clinicians enjoy a little diversion now and then.

Sometimes, the news is simultaneously important and heart-wrenching, like when the convergence of a not-very-effective vaccine and an especially serious flu season killed some 80,000 people, according to the CDC. As the 2018-2019 flu season gets underway, a different threat – the low but rising incidence of mysterious acute flaccid myelitis – is getting attention, particularly for its unknown cause and tendency to afflict children. 

Health care costs continued to rankle readers across our audiences, the value of EHRs continued to be questioned (although eliminating “stupid stuff” might be a start), cybersecurity continued to be a worry, and salad got scary. Opioid abuse continued to be one of the most serious challenges in public health.

And sometimes the news looked pretty promising, like the rising interest in social determinants of health – factors like access to healthy foods, secure housing and transportation that can have an outsized influence on health. As health insurers and health systems invest in these areas, patients stand to reap life-changing benefits.

Value-based care showed signs of success, executives rallied behind telemedicine, and the CMS continued clearing the way for new types of benefits for seniors.

In fact, in a year of big and consequential trends, perhaps none was quite so big and consequential as action by the government – to reshape value-based care, Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, EHR programs, the Affordable Care Act and much more. Proposals to bring down drug prices were also announced.

The trends that mattered in 2018 won’t stop being important on Dec. 31. Many are likely to become even more so, as pressure to optimize health care delivery and utilization increase.

SmartBrief health care editor Kathryn Doherty shares her take on the year ahead: “Managing data will be a key challenge in 2019. Providers and payers will be looking to leverage data to drive personalized care and optimize clinical work, while balancing security and privacy concerns.

“Value-based care will also continue to be center stage, as payers and providers determine the best ways to improve care quality and reimbursements,” she added.

Even with all the data we have on what interests our readers and all the stories we read -- day in and day out -- SmartBrief editors and writers don’t have a crystal ball. Disease outbreaks will occur. Regulatory action may upend the landscape. Continued vertical integration and external disruption could change health care as we know it. But whatever happens, we’ll keep it front and center for SmartBrief’s readers.

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