January is the month of predictions for the upcoming year. These past weeks, a number of forums posted their predictions for the 2016 year in healthcare (a full list is found at the end of this post). From doctor-centered blogs to financial newspapers, all the predictions shared elements from 5 major themes. Taken together, these many prediction lists give a big picture of what the future could hold in healthcare.
Opinions varied between the future of health insurance in the US, but one theme was consistent: Employers are going to start examining healthcare costs and demand changes that affect their bottom line. Another health insurance topic was the new rise in insurance mega-mergers, the controversial solution to the rising costs associated with the Affordable Care Act. Which brings us to our next theme…
Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act, or ACA, has both its proponents and opponents. Most of the 2016 predictions made it clear that healthcare was poised to become a political wedge issue in this election year. Topics that fall under this category include Medicare coverage and reimbursement, megamergers, high deductibles, and the definition of “medical necessity,” among many others.
Technology in Medicine
A healthcare worker’s life is filled with the unique devices of their specialty. The one ubiquitous tool, however, is the computer. Digital technology is an intrinsic part of all healthcare today: Computers help diagnose, track, medicate, analyze, predict, inform, and, of course, bill patients. For 2016, technology featured in all the prediction lists, including the use of precision analytics and population health management, data transparency, and payment based on quality metrics. Caution about cybersecurity, not surprisingly, was a related topic found in most healthcare predictions.
According to the expert predictions for 2016, the role of medical innovations will continue to offer new hope for patient outcomes. The advent gene editing, biosimilars, cheaper and faster diagnostic testing, and personalized medical treatment are all set to revolutionize healthcare in the near future. The need for innovations in regenerative medications, end-of-life and hospice care, and drug delivery systems were predictions that we can hope to see this year.
A broad theme across all the predictions was the idea of patient-centered change. One of the specific interpretations of this idea is the use of “wearables,” personal technology devices (including cell phones) that collect, track, interpret, and communicate biometrics. Transcending mere data collection, some wearables have been dubbed “ther-ables,” where the device becomes a part of the therapy. Another patient-centered prediction for 2016 is the increase in the use of telemedicine, with patients and physicians communicated via digital means rather than in-office visits. Finally, the increase in non-traditional, innovative, community-based medical care was seen as a growth area for 2016, including in-store clinics which are already on the rise.
We would like to add one prediction for 2016 not covered by any of the sources we cited today. We believe 2016 is the year that we, patients and loved ones, make our voices heard about hospital-acquired infections. There is a growing body of concerned citizens speaking out about the needless and preventable injuries and deaths due to infections, and their message is reaching the general public. As patients and their loved ones learn about the role of hand hygiene, we see more and more individuals reminding their caregivers to wash their hands or wear gloves. As new technologies achieve EPA-registration as sanitizers that kill disease-causing bacteria, we see healthcare consumers beginning to demand their use and integration into their medical facilities. As medical data and reporting becomes more transparent, we see those same consumers choosing their healthcare facility based on performance in areas they care about: Infection rates, successful outcomes, and other measures of quality of care. This is patient empowerment, where we use all the tools available to us to get the best health care possible.
List of 2016 Prediction Lists Used in this Post