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Without some easing in the nation's stubbornly high unemployment rate in 2011, hospitals and the nursing workforce will face continued economy-related challenges. National unemployment was on track to enter 2011 at a higher rate than the start of 2010, and that means more households without commercial insurance. For newly graduating nurses—and the policymakers who have aggressively promoted the career in recent years—high unemployment means limited prospects as older nurses hold on to work.
For others, the austerity of recent years will likely mean a rebound in 2011 as hospitals and health systems catch up on capital investments in technology and medical devices to prepare for health reform.
Some sectors, such as health information technology and construction, even see heightened activity in the near future. Many hospitals and doctors face a race to meet requirements for the first stage of IT incentive payments in 2011. Healthcare construction, which survived the recession without the lows seen elsewhere among builders, may see an uptick as providers look to prepare to accommodate the newly insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The reform law will mean increased compliance efforts for health plans in the year ahead and greater scrutiny of providers' quality-improvement efforts. Post-acute providers also expect regulatory and reimbursement changes in the new year.
Merger and acquisition activity is widely expected to pick up in 2011 among insurers, hospitals and health systems.
The accompanying stories take a more detailed look at these and other challenges, as well as opportunities, ahead in the various sectors that make up our healthcare system.