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Trends in Health Care 2021: Takeaways from the webinar

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KP International recently hosted a webinar on global health care trends in 2021, featuring Chris Watney, CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, and Vivian Tan, Kaiser Permanente’s Vice President of Strategic Information Management and Global Relationships.

Chris began the session by highlighting the health care trends that have remained consistent across many countries both prior to and during the pandemic. The pursuit of cost efficiency and affordability continue to be top priorities for payors, as does the pursuit of seamlessly orchestrated care that is patient oriented.

Chris and Vivian noted several emerging trends and shifts, many of which are “silver linings” discovered in a difficult year fighting COVID-19:

Takeaways from the webinar

1. Big shifts in momentum for change. With the rapid uptake of virtual care, the shift to identifying the best solutions and experiences at a much faster pace is a positive trend.

2. Consumer expectations for health and wellness. Expectations are “off the chart” around both experience and engagement.

3. Increased attention on mental health. Vivian noted growing concerns around mental health within 3 populations: the elderly, who have been isolated during COVID; children and youth, who are experiencing more mental health conditions and increased risk of self-harm; and employees in the workplace, especially front-line health care providers. Chris noted that internationally, payors are considering mental health more like physical health and are taking a more understanding approach in underwriting patients with mental health conditions.

4. Payors as ringmasters. For international systems that are not integrated, Chris noted that where there are incentives to work efficiently, payors are stepping into the role of “ringmaster” and helping organize entities to construct an integrated approach to care.

5. Social determinants of health and racial disparities in care. COVID-19 and the social justice movements of 2020 put systemic racial inequities in the U.S. and elsewhere in the spotlight.

6. Public-private collaboration. As public and private entities increasingly work together, collaboration will continue amid recognition of the need for strong public health infrastructure.

7. Crisis standards and simplification. Finally, as health systems are sometimes forced to operate under “crisis standards” while addressing the pandemic, some processes that the health care industry has taken for granted have been simplified. Here’s to keeping the streamlined approaches as we move forward!

Selected Q&A and more topics to note

A question came up about approaches to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, in light of general ethnic and racial disparities in acceptance of vaccines. Kaiser Permanente’s approach is 3-pronged: through employees sharing their stories about deciding to be vaccinated; through partnerships with public health organizations; and by outreach to community hubs where people gather, including faith-based and community organizations.

Deferred care: Chris mentioned that the International Federation of Health Plans did a study in late 2020 and found that while elective surgeries had been put on hold, health systems quickly ramped up and were able to manage both COVID and regular care.

Vivian noted that there is likely high demand for some services that had been delayed. For example, to accommodate the increased demand for mental health services, Kaiser Permanente continues to test the options for group therapy and peer-to-peer support that have been used effectively for other conditions and can be expanded.

The demise of Haven: While this Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JP Morgan Chase venture would likely have been disruptive first to the United States, many international health systems were watching with interest. A likely challenge Haven faced was that in their effort to reform the commercial group insurance side of health care, they also needed to have provider-side reforms. It is recognized that both coverage and care reform is required to drive system change. For example, two-thirds of US counties have only 1 major provider. Vivian points out that this is likely not the end of Haven, and we continue to expect future market innovation and disruption.


We appreciated hearing what Chris and Vivian believe 2021 holds for health care — a hopeful outlook overall. Focusing more on the patient, leveraging the momentum generated in response to COVID, and addressing critical care disparities are all positive outcomes of a truly disruptive and remarkable year.

Be sure to join KP International for the continuing seminar series Integrated Health Care in Action, with monthly webinars on Tuesdays from February to June. Register now at

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