Image credit: http://symposium.connected-health.org/
Here’s a painful contradiction: U.S. healthcare costs are higher than any other country in the world, despite a lack of superior patient outcomes. To boot, the Institute of Medicine reports the US healthcare system squanders $750 billion a year (roughly 30 cents of every medical dollar) through unneeded care, complex paperwork, fraud and other waste.
Despite this sobering reality, there’s reason for great optimism in healthcare. Innovators with game-changing visions are collaborating across the spectrum like never before to make healthcare more streamlined, more effective, and more human.
The recent 2014 Connected Health Symposium in Boston offered a fascinating glimpse into some of what’s being done to reinvent healthcare to perform better for all constituents.
My biggest takeaway from the conference was the realization that each of us, as patients, has not just the right but the obligation to assume a significantly more active, informed role in the healthcare process. Unless we’re proactive participants in our own care – the “CEO of our healthcare team,” as keynote speaker Robin Farmanfarmaian put it – the healthcare system as a whole will never cure what ails it and deliver better outcomes at a lower cost. That’s why I say there needs to be an “I” in healthcare.
Fortunately, the Symposium spotlighted the many ways healthcare organizations are empowering all of us to step into this critical role – without needing an advanced degree in medicine to succeed. Here’s a look at some of what stood out for me.
Tackling the Challenges
Josh Lemieux, Chief of Staff to Intel Fellow Eric Dishman, set the stage during his keynote by outlining some of healthcare’s mega-challenges:
- Our aging population (there will be two billion of us over the age of 60 by the year 2050 – meaning for the first time in history, older people will outnumber younger)
- How we address the critical shortage of qualified doctors and nurses, particularly in remote locations
- Rising costs – by 2020, worldwide healthcare costs will have increased 50% over today’s levels
- Inefficiency and poor patient experience (see the waste numbers referenced earlier)
To meet these trends, Lemieux outlined a few necessary shifts:
- Payment reforms (moving from “volume” to “value” care)
- Increased public investments in healthcare
- Healthcare consumerism (which translates to creating more involved and empowered patients)
- Technology innovation (for instance, mobile, social, apps, gadgets, cloud, big data)
The Necessary Shifts
So how do we get there? Lemieux provided an overview of Intel’s vision of how we facilitate these shifts.
First is what Intel calls “Care Networking”: a shift from solo independent practitioners to a team-based model. This model includes more proactive care, where providers don’t ask “Who am I seeing today” but rather “Who should I be seeing today?”; and skill-shifting certain responsibilities to patients and families so consumers play a more active role in their care. Evolving software from transaction tools to care coordination tools; making clinical decision support tools not for individual practitioners, but for groups; and pushing measurement to near real-time analytics are all key parts of accomplishing this shift.
Next up is “Care Anywhere” – focusing on technology to help people connect to services, wherever they are. This means shifting to “trusted mobility”(tools and protocols to ensure mobile connections are trusted and secure) for clinicians and patients; improving remote patient monitoring with tablets and smartphones; moving from visit-based monitoring to on/in body monitoring tools; and introducing DIY medical devices.
Lastly is “Care Customization,” or shifting from healthcare decisions based on populations to person-based treatments. This means shifting to incorporate individual patient goals in care plans; focusing on genetic and proteomics (advanced protein studies) to inform approaches to care; targeting individuals’ risk factors with predictive modeling; and precision therapies and custom drugs -- no more one-size-fits-all care.
These are substantive changes to a complex, entrenched system -- and they won’t happen overnight. The country will need to modify existing care models with a focus on prevention, early detection and behavior change; place- and skill-shift to facilitate more hands-on involvement by patients/family/case workers; invest in new kinds of care workers who can deliver high quality care at a lower cost; and invest in technology to link teams and enable care delivery whenever, wherever. And we need to improve standards and measure outcomes at every step of the way. But by simply laying out a vision, some of our leaders are already taking the first steps forward to change.
What’s on the Horizon
Here’s an overview of a few other cutting edge trends that were discussed during the event:
Humanizing the Provider Environment:
How many of us have ever waited hours to see a provider, clad only in a skimpy, scratchy hospital gown? Speakers shared views of the provider environment of the future, where patients feel respected and listened to, are subjected to little to no waiting time for appointments, and who wear “designer” hospital garb that is comfortable, attractive to wear and low cost to produce, while still enabling easy access from our neck bone to our ankle bone that providers need to do their jobs.
The Wearables Phenomenon:
Wearing a device on one’s body is a very personal decision. To drive patient acceptance of wearables and make sensing seamless, the healthcare industry will increasingly move wearables beyond the wrist to other parts of the body (depending on what needs to be measured) and make them invisible to the user. This includes wearables like temporary biosensor tattoos and sub-Q wearables like advanced glucose monitors. The Connected Health audience also got a peek at clothing-like wearables that measure brain waves and use colored lights to illustrate emotions – valuable for people with conditions such as autism who have difficulty expressing their feelings.
Here’s the Star Trek Stuff…:
The healthcare environment of the future takes advantage of drones to deliver medications to remote areas far from traditional hospitals or pharmacies. It features drugs that are compounded to our specific genomics and conditions – no more off-the-shelf. In need of a replacement organ? Just turn to 3-D printing for organs on demand. All amazing innovations – and all very much part of the future of healthcare.
It’s an exciting time for healthcare and I’m convinced we’re on the right track to improve our system – so long as each of us is ready and willing to engage in our own health.