Healthcare has not progressed in the same patient-centric, digital manner that many unregulated industries have, but its future is full of potential.
Factors like the financial strain of an aging population, a shift to a values-based payment model, and increased consumer demand for retail-like customer service is driving change.
7 Trends Shaping the Future of Healthcare
Patient as a Consumer
The voice of healthcare patients is empowered now more than even before. Growing accustom to the customer-first, on-demand service they experience with retailers, patients are more critical of the services they receive. The vast majority (71% of Americans) are dissatisfied with their primary care physicians.
Today healthcare providers need to have the same concerns with loyalty as consumer businesses. On top of adjusting to consumer expectations and a digital age where patients openly share their experiences online, they are also incentivized to care about patient satisfaction and readmission rates through the Affordable Care Act.
Consumers increasingly want the convenience of more options online, just like they do in other aspects of their lives. A McKinsey & Company study recently showed that 75% of people want to use digital healthcare services. Patients are already digitally enabled in many areas. Web portals are one area that many patients are already using, with Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Patient Report stating that 29% of respondents access their health information on a portal.
Many providers are investing in new ways to communicate with their patients, such as niche communities, patient portals or forums. Two examples include:
- Columbia Health’s wellness forum, Go Ask Alice!, which allows audiences to ask health questions in a judgement-free environment
- United Healthcare’s “We Dare You” website that features quizzes and prizes to promote making one healthy change per month.
Not only can platforms for two-way dialogue help increase patient satisfaction, but it also has a huge potential to save lives. Medication adherence, an enormous issue that results in over 125,000 deaths annually, is deeply rooted in a lack of understanding about potential side effects and complications. Services that help engage patients more in understanding the facts of their conditions make a difference in prevention.
Increased Access to Healthcare
Patient access to healthcare services will be an increasing challenge. In terms of capacity, Kurt Mosley, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at Merritt Hawkins and Staff Care Inc. notes that, “By 2017, for the first time ever, we’ll have more doctors retiring, leaving or dying than coming in at a time when we are adding more patients to the mix”.
Patient expectations from retail experiences bleed over into how they want to receive healthcare. 62% of health-insured patients agree that they would be open to virtual care treatments, such as video conference calls for minor illness non-urgent matters.
In turn, start-ups are continuously cropping up that make the delivery of healthcare services more convenient. A few examples include:
- Pager: A mobile app that enables you to call a doctor or nurse to visit you at your office. It’s being called the “Uber for doctor house calls”.
- Hometeam: Technology that connects seniors to professional caregivers in their area.
Additionally, telemedicine only continues to grow as a means of improving access to medical services for remote communities, and those who are too busy to make it to a clinic.
New technology and digital processes raise questions about compliance and security. Based on the results from healthcare companies to a survey conducted by the Health Care Compliance Association (HCAA), they identified the following areas as hot topics that they will be focusing on in the coming year: social media compliance risks (42%); cybersecurity and cybercrime (39%); more effective internal investigations (37%); False Claims Act enforcement (35%); and creating/maintaining an ethnical culture (32%).
Companies can also be a roadblock in moving forward with new technologies. For example, while wearables have a huge potential to provide more information to Doctor’s, there are numerous concerns around privacy and compliance. Additionally, Telemedicine still isn’t legal in all US states.
New healthcare providers are entering the industry from all angles with a mission to transform healthcare. Chains like Walgreens and CVS introduced walk-in clinics for diagnostic tests and immunizations. For example, CVS’ Minute Clinics have grown over the past 15 years to let individuals get the care their need conveniently in their neighbourhood CVS.
Also, large tech giants such as Google have made massive investments in healthcare. One of Alphabet’s (Google’s holding company) is focused on diabetes. They’ve already built partnerships with Sanofi, Novartis and the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard’s medical school.
Health start-ups are also competing with traditional healthcare providers. In 2015, $4.5B in total venture funding was invested in digital health. The top investment category was healthcare consumer engagement (i.e.: ZocDoc), following by wearables and biosensing (i.e.: Jawbone); personal health tools and tracking (i.e.: 23andMe); payer administration; telemedicine, and care coordination.
These new entrants are new competitors in the market for patients’ health and wellness spending. Ultimately, these new market forces are a good thing – Mike Biselli, President of Catalyst Health-Tech Innovation stated, “We’re not going to revolutionize healthcare just through the largest organizations that have dominated the space for the last 50 years, and it won’t happen with start-ups alone, either. We have to do it together.”
New consumer medical devices have the ability to predict consumer health risks and detect conditions more efficiently. New methods that give patients the ability to collect data and gain insights can empower them to prevent illness before it begins. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, foresees a future where mobile devices will “perform blood tests, medical scans and event parts of the physical examination”. He argues that paternalistic restrictions on patient involvement have resulted in thwarting healthcare.
With issues such as medication compliance, devices that detect missed doses have the potential to make a huge difference. Medication compliance is extremely low, with only 4 in 10 people say they take their medications as prescribed.
Healthcare accounts for 30% of all electronic data storage in the world, and is expected to grow by a factor of at least 20% by the end of the decade. However, huge amounts of this data goes unused everyday. Technology can play a major role in making sense of this data in new ways to treat and prevent disease.
You wouldn’t consider Google a healthcare company, but their DeepMind project is using machine learning technology to analyze vast amounts of medical data to improve how illness are diagnosed and treated. Additionally, IBM Watson has designed a program for oncologists that examines a patent’s file, clinical research and trial data to suggest potential treatment plans for cancer patients.
As the worlds of healthcare, technology and consumer engagement converge, there’s potential to meet the needs of healthcare consumers more effectively. Healthcare doesn’t start when a patient gets sick – illness needs to be actively prevented. The possibility of new ways of providing targeted communication and offerings to consumers throughout this lifecycle will ultimately shape healthcare consumer behavior and lifestyle.