The health care industry is evolving, driven by policy changes, societal shifts and technological advances. Health care policy experts, government officials, health care trade associations and C-level executives from hospitals and health care systems gathered on the 20th of October at the U.S. News Hospital of Tomorrow Conference 2015 in Washington to examine the challenges facing the industry, and to discuss how health care must change to face the future.
One insightful speaker was Dr. Elizabeth McNally, director of Northwestern University's Center for Genetic Medicine. She talked of the promise and challenge of precision medicine - using high-throughput sequencing to decipher mountains of genetic information quickly and at a lower cost than before and tailoring of medical treatment to the individual genetic characteristics of each patient. Although some hospitals have established footholds, particularly in cancer, they are discovering many complexities of such targeted approaches including logistics, ethics and high costs.
There was some hope vested on telehealth, with it’s potential to offset the inefficiency of American healthcare system, by improving the quality of healthcare and reducing its cost. Telemedicine leverages technology to connect patients with physicians remotely, whether it be a phone call, a video consultation, remote patient monitoring, the use of mobile tools for chronic disease management or even tele-ICUs, telemedicine allows for immediate access to health care providers. Its advantages are numerous: reduced unnecessary doctor visits, waiting times and costs of healthcare, improved doctor accessibility, ability to provide care to people in the comfort of their home. Its benefits are especially valuable in areas across the globe that are medically underserved, and to individuals who are disabled and have no physical access to the doctor.
Although it is likely that Generation “Y”, accustomed to being served by smart devices, will embrace the idea of getting convenient, cost-effective medical advice at their fingertips, there is undoubtedly a flip side of the coin. While telemedicine can only be viewed as complimentary and not a substitute to traditional office visits, the question remains of whether it represents a thorough approach to health. How seriously can one take a diagnosis when the doctor didn’t test the patient’s vitals, bloodwork or throat culture. Is it prudent to prescribe medication over this medium? What about the comfort of a relationship with the doctor, and the reassurance of the doc’s physical presence?
Telehealth is not the only challenge to traditional healthcare. We have entered the era of retail health. Increasingly we observe drug, big box and grocery stores competing with hospitals by providing medical services like patient management for people with chronic diseases, vaccinations, screenings and medical care the time convenient to consumers and often at lower prices. This suits today’s time-strapped and price- conscious consumers well and puts the previously unknown pressure on hospitals to provide similar price and on-demand access to health services.
Another important change is the emphasis on value based care. In a historic policy change, Medicare will require that by next year at least 30% (and 50% by 2018) of all payments to the nation’s hospitals must shift from fee-for-service model designed around “sick care” and hospital stays, toward a population health management system with value based reimbursement and a focus on rewarding the quality, safety and efficiency of patient care. People expect convenience, quality and transparency in choosing how they spend their time and money in healthcare just as with other areas and hospital’s survival will now depend on its ability to meet these expectations.
Another panel explored the possibility of tapping into big data analytics and finding innovative uses for vast amounts of data, now available to hospitals through electronic health records and genetic sequencing, to achieve improved patient care and operational efficiency.
Somewhat expectedly, there was a panel dedicated to information security. According to IDC, by 2020, 80% of health care data at some point will pass through a cloud. Stressing the sensitivity of information pertaining to individual’s health, the panel examined best practices that providers can implement to protect their data.
The new realities, including the healthcare reform, technological breakthroughs, previously unknown competition, rapidly changing consumer expectations, vast amount of data and new analytical tools combine to bring unprecedented challenges and opportunities for U.S. health care organizations with plenty to discuss, digest, and make happen.