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The healthcare system of tomorrow is coming faster than we think

After attending last week’s U.S. News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow event, it is clear that the system of tomorrow will look very different. Historically, change in the healthcare industry has been slow, but evolution is coming faster than expected and three forces are driving unprecedented change: economics, regulation, and technology.

The intersection of these forces means that very soon, healthcare may be unrecognizable for those enduring the current fee-for-service, high cost, doctor at the top, questionable outcome system of today. Here’s what we might expect.

Economics

The current (and past) economic situation of the US healthcare system has forced many organizations into the corner. Many public and private entities have struggled (and continue to struggle) with both revenue and cost challenges. An unusual value chain, system inefficiencies, high operating and technology costs and declining reimbursements are changing the landscape (and power structure) of today’s healthcare system.

Companies are unaccustomed to the pace of change needed, both organizational and technological. The good news about bad economics is that it is, and will continue to be, a driver for change in the industry. This change will eventually drive out the inefficiencies in the system and should lead to better care.

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Regulatory

Regulatory changes have had a massive impact on getting a quasi-government and somewhat monopolistic industry to change. Electronic health records regulation and the Affordable Care Act have forced hospitals and payers to adjust how they operate. Massive investments have been made in an effort to improve data about patients and their quality of care. While there are still interoperability and privacy and security concerns, we have come a long way in the past 10 years. New reimbursement models and the shift to outcome based payments are forcing the industry to rethink healthcare delivery.

Regardless of the current administration, more regulatory changes are coming because economics drive regulation. Perhaps one of the biggest regulatory changes on the horizon is a new reimbursement model for home based care. Time will tell but this type of regulatory reform would drive massive change within the system.

Technology

The rate of technical change is perhaps the highest it has ever been in human history. This is especially true within the healthcare industry. Raw computing power, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, and smart devices are changing the base of power within healthcare delivery. The ability to collaborate globally in real time via avatars in a surgery setting may sound like the plot for a James Cameron movie – but it is happening today.

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence technologies are shifting the power base in care delivery, which means that getting the best care will no longer be dependent on an individual doctor, hospital or geography. In addition, the insight into care pathways, diagnosis, treatment and sharing of knowledge will advance skills across all levels and disrupt medical training and education. In 1950, doctors in practice could expect the amount of medical knowledge to double every 50 years. By 2020 it will double in just 73 days.

Technology is not only the reason behind this knowledge explosion, but also the solution for capturing, storing, analyzing, and sharing that knowledge. While technology by itself is not a silver bullet solution, the application of technology to a business or medical problem has the power to shift the paradigm of today’s healthcare. One thing is certain, technology is going to be a key component of the healthcare of tomorrow.

Perhaps the best quote I heard at the conference was “companies don’t disrupt industries, people disrupt industries.” It is important that we keep in mind that:

  • the people impacted by the economics of healthcare are driving regulatory reform
  • the people developing technology to solve business and medical challenges are changing healthcare
  • the people using this technology in practice are shaping the way we experience healthcare.

Disruption is coming and Healthcare of Tomorrow will be here sooner than we can imagine. I am honored (and humbled) to work with people passionate about improving the cost, quality, and outcome of healthcare.

Find out more about our work in healthcare.

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