An investor’s perspective on healthcare trends in 2022

Andy Colbert, senior managing director at Ziegler, looks at opportunities and areas to watch in the coming year.

With a new year coming, Andy Colbert sees intriguing possibilities for investors in the healthcare market in 2022.

Colbert is a senior managing director at Ziegler, an investment bank based in Chicago. He’s also a founding member of Ziegler’s Healthcare Investment Banking Practice.

In a recent interview with Chief Healthcare Executive, Colbert talked about investment opportunities and trends to watch in the new year.

Telehealth

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth, and it’s not going away anytime soon, Colbert said.

“I see the pandemic as having been a catalyst for a paradigm shift in how care is delivered,” Colbert said. “Pre-pandemic, telemedicine was viewed as less desirable, definitely less comfortable for people. Through COVID, it became a requirement.”

The federal government said there were more than 52 million telehealth visits by Medicare recipients in 2020. That’s a 63-fold increase compared to 2019, when there were 840,000 telehealth visits. The government eased restrictions to allow more people to access telehealth services, and healthcare organizations are urging Congress to ensure that access continues even after the pandemic ends.

Now, there has been “a normalization of it as a means of delivering healthcare,” Colbert said.

However, Colbert said he questions the long-term outlook of standalone telehealth groups.

“My view is it needs to be integrated in the primary care practice,” Colbert said.

“Patients are most excited about telehealth if it’s embedded in the practice and it’s a team they have confidence in than if it’s an unknown group of physicians sitting across the country somewhere.”

Primary care practices will have to consider telehealth options and rethink how they deliver care, Colbert said.

Recently, The Business Group on Health said telehealth would remain a top trend in 2022, but providers would need to combine virtual visits with in-patient care.

Outpatient shift continues

In recent years, the healthcare industry has seen a growing shift to outpatient services. Colbert said that trend will continue.

“We’re seeing tremendous focus on Medicare as well as the commercial insurance companies really trying to drive incentives for reimbursement and physician groups to pull volumes out of the hospital,” Colbert said.

The disparity in outpatient and inpatient reimbursement rates is significant in many markets, he noted.

Colbert said he expected growth of in-patient services in the low single digits, while he forecast double-digit growth in outpatient services.

Subscription services

For consumers, subscription services are a part of everyday life, from streaming options to clothing.

“Healthcare is no different,” Colbert said. “In healthcare, you’re seeing more of a move to subscription-based models.”

Companies such as One Medical offer primary care as a membership-based business. One Medical is also selling services to big companies who offer access as a benefit to employees.

Much like a streaming service, healthcare companies offering subscriptions get guaranteed revenue and high visibility, Colbert noted.

The margins are more promising for those groups who can succeed in managing the health of their patients, he said.

Other trends to watch

Colbert said he’s “super bullish” on physician specialties, particularly with the growing emphasis on value-based care.

Home care models, especially those targeted for seniors, should continue to grow.

Colbert also said he’s “bullish on data analytics.”

“What we need to get better at is harnessing all this healthcare data,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a big area.”

He said artificial intelligence “is an area that’s really interesting.” There’s intriguing potential with AI in a field like radiology to mine images and detect cancers earlier.

Cybersecurity also remains a pressing need in healthcare. Scores of healthcare organizations have reported cyber attacks, including some that have disrupted patient care and delayed procedures. The federal government has reported nearly 600 breaches of healthcare organizations affecting at least 500 people in 2021.

“I think cybersecurity is probably one of the single biggest issues,” Colbert said. “Companies have to be better prepared.”