Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: 18 months of crisis, burnout and bright spots from tech
The reading habits of SmartBrief's health care and life science audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across these industries, and our newsletter engagement data sheds light on what's keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, clinicians and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here's what was top of mind for all of them in Q3, as well as a look at what's next.
The pandemic, 18 months in
Eighteen months in, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a shadow over our readers’ personal and professional lives – and their reading habits. In fact, only a few of the top-read stories across our audiences were not coronavirus-related, which speaks to the enormity of the ongoing crisis.
The specific concerns reflect the diversity of our audience, but the themes were constant: This is a tough battle. The topics that captured readers’ interest included: mask and vaccination mandates, immunization effectiveness, the need for boosters, hospitals grappling with the sick and unvaccinated, full ICUs turning away patients, surgeries and procedures put on hold, health professionals facing burnout, long COVID issues, and the ethics of employers and businesses requiring the vaccine. The mounting costs of COVID-19 care caught many readers’ eyes, and they tracked the progress of guidance from federal health and science agencies for direction, clicking often on COVID-19 stories about FDA and CDC guidelines.
While the Delta variant is still circulating widely, public health agencies are tracking the emergence of others, although early concern about the Mu variant has waned. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of new hospitalizations involve people who chose not to be vaccinated, some of whom have expressed regret from their hospital beds. Rising pediatric cases are a particular cause for worry as well, but the FDA and CDC are reviewing the possibility of vaccine authorization for children ages 5 to 11.
While some recent slowdowns in new COVID-19 cases have been seen, experts say we are not out of the woods. More large companies and employers likely will follow the trend of requiring vaccines or testing in coming months, with hopes of stemming the tide.
Tackling the challenges of health care
Technology as a solution to long-standing challenges has been a persistent theme in health care and the life sciences, and tech solutions to coding and billing issues captured high interest in Q3. Many readers were interested in stories on ICD-10-CM diagnostic code updates, and surprise billing rules and health-related data breaches made headlines as well. On the consumer health side, people wanted to read about smartphone apps that can track vaccination status. Readers also gravitated toward stories about how artificial intelligence is advancing health outcomes, hospitals are using data to improve care quality, and scientists are devising new ways to analyze disease risk.
Emerging tools and technologies will continue to answer many of the questions that plague health care today – and the pandemic will only accelerate that progress. For example, the pandemic is spurring employers to revamp workplace benefits to include wider mental health services and programs more finely tailored to workers' needs. Companies are tapping into data analytics, apps and other tools to provide the benefit customization employees want. And more employers are likely to catch on to this trend, which promises to make job environments more livable for people in a variety of sectors, whether they work at home or have returned to the office.
Burnout reaches a crisis point
The pandemic has asked much of SmartBrief’s health care and life sciences readers. We wrote more than a year ago about mounting concerns for the well-being of professionals on the front lines, and misinformation and resistance to vaccination have only served to exacerbate that toll. Stories capturing the challenges and pressures health care professionals are facing drew interest from readers across our audiences in the impact of stress, burnout and tightening health care workforce. Words tinged with urgency — such as “surge,” “spike,” “demand,” “crisis,” “shortage” and “exhausted”— showed up in myriad headlines.
There's much more to come about physician and nurse shortages as hospitals struggle to find staff, call on the government for assistance and try to attract professionals with bonuses and incentives. And it's likely even more staffing will be needed if Medicare is expanded to offer additional coverage, like vision and dental coverage for older adults. Meanwhile, the most concerning consequences of burnout – continued strain on the mental health of our nation’s professionals in health care and beyond – will be with us for far too long.
A side note
When we looked at the most popular stories from the past quarter, some outliers caught our attention. Many readers were interested in a survey detailing how people perceive physicians' attire, and others tuned in to read about a group of Florida physicians who staged a walkout to protest vaccine resistance. A story about CDC sexually transmitted infection guidance scored far more hits than any other we examined. And the award for the most eclectic top story goes to a nurse who used empty vaccine vials to create a chandelier.
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