More diabetes, joint pain and heart ailments projected in 2022

A new report from Prealize projects some patients will have greater health issues in the year ahead. The deferral of care due to the COVID-19 pandemic could play a role.

Healthcare providers are going to be seeing more patients with joint pain, diabetes, and cardiac issues in 2022, according to a new report.

Prealize released its annual State of Health report predicting health issues and how patients will utilize healthcare. The California-based company said it reviewed more than 2 million claims and used artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning to come up with its projections.

In the report released Wednesday morning, Prealize projected a 22% increase in joint pain medical encounters with healthcare providers in the year ahead, along with a 7% increase in patients seeking treatment for spine-related problems.

Some of the musculoskeletal issues may arise from decreased physical activity during the pandemic. The report also noted a number of elective spinal surgeries that had been slated to take place early in the pandemic were postponed and hadn’t been rescheduled by the middle of 2021. Some of those patients may end up needing treatment that can no longer be delayed.

Prealize projected a significant increase (17.6%) in medical encounters for patients with diabetes. The report also projected patients who are already diagnosed with diabetes will have worsening symptoms in the year ahead. Some with diabetes may have experienced challenges getting access to medical care as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report suggested.

The report projected an 18% increase in patients seeking treatment for cardiomyopathy, a condition which restricts the heart’s ability to pump blood. Prealize also predicted a 10% rise in patients needing treatment for hypertension and a 9% increase in encounters for cardiac blocks.

Some patients who suffered from COVID-19 have been found to have heart damage, even though they didn’t have a pre-existing problem. The report said some of those COVID-19 patients could have heart issues requiring medical attention this year.

More people are struggling with weight gain during the pandemic, which stands as a key factor contributing to potential increases in cardiac issues, joint pain and other health issues.

Prealize predicted a 14% increase in patients with obesity going for treatment from healthcare providers. The report cited research from the American Psychological Association which found 42% of Americans gained weight during the pandemic.

In addition, healthcare providers should expect to see more patients with mental health issues in the year ahead.

The report cited data indicating 20% of those suffering from anxiety or depression needed but didn’t receive treatment during the pandemic, which could spur more people seeking care in the coming year. The stress of the pandemic combined with millions being unemployed add to mental health challenges.

Prealize projected a 4% increase in patients seeking treatment for substance abuse issues in 2022.

Providers should evaluate patients with increased risk for mental health issues and do additional screenings if they come in for appointments, the report suggested.

Healthcare providers should be proactive in offering preventive care, said Linda Hand, CEO of Prealize Health.

“Our predicted increases in care claims are a by-product of how our society coped with the pandemic combined with the already reactive healthcare system. The negative repercussions will extend into 2022 and beyond because, as a country, we’ve fallen backwards in pushing preventive care,” Hand said in the report.

“This new normal requires healthcare leaders to redouble efforts to promote proactive health through early detection and better member engagement.”

Hand said healthcare providers should commit to offering telehealth options for patients. She said that may mean investing more in video capability for people in underserved communities. The federal government eased restrictions on telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many healthcare advocates want that access to be permanent.

“Expanding access to care via telehealth will create a more equitable approach and enable members to stay engaged with providers where they would otherwise be limited,” Hand stated in the report.

To come up with its projections, Prealize analyzed claims between September 2017 and August 2021. The analysis reviewed people of all ages and included people with private insurance, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid recipients.