This article is part of the “Think Further” series sponsored by Fred Alger Management. For more “Think Further” content, please visit www.thinkfurtheralger.com.
There is almost nothing I’m certain of except that life is an uncertain thing and that it seems to change a lot. Even in the most predictable of settings, even the minutest changes in detail can have a lasting and overwhelming effect on nearly everything in its atmosphere. In healthcare, a space seemingly immune to the status quo, things seem to get a whole lot more complicated. The same can be said of life and death, health and well-being. On their own, they are not so difficult to understand and often, in most cases, predictable and redundant; until the final days, of course, then things begin to get a little more complicated. When we’re fine, we’re fine. Life is good and most of our concerns seem trivial.
Then health gets involved and the minutest change in detail can send our lives in a spiral so much so that we barely recognize our place in it let alone who we are and where we belong. When such an occurrence arises, we begin to rely on beeps and buttons, software and technology in ways never before imagined for the intersection of our lives.
Clearly, the health IT landscape will be completely different five years from now. From where we stand today to where we’re headed, we’ll likely look back on this moment and wonder how we survived such archaic times. Just a couple years removed from the age of the electronic health records, technology that already seems dated and antiquated, is no longer monolithic and domineering to the space as it likely seemed in 2010.
Our future selves might stand on the threshold of 2020 and say that we were being single minded. The technology — EHRs were supposed to save healthcare and are now nothing but foundational. The technology was supposed to simply aggregate information collection, provide for the ability to quickly share information system wide and around the world; and give us the capability accessing all of a patient’s information at the tips of the proverbial finger.
When the promise of those solutions faded (yes, their stars have faded) and as our attention forced us into new technologies (primarily because of consumers’ desire) we are now seeing developments in technology creating touch points that impact patients “where they live” and has become the new force behind healthcare technology.
Consumers will drive healthcare’s future. Probably not a secret at this point, but a point that is hard for the old guard. They’ve had enough of being left out of the ownership process regarding their own health. They’re tired of being locked out of their own records, and kept access to their own information. Such data would not exist without those helping produce it. New consumer technologies have and will further level the field. Consumer tech will continue to spur innovation, at light speeds. Data will flow between healthcare parties and its consumers; HIPAA protections will be waived and open access for the social good will become the norm. Standard and traditional approaches when dealing with patients, in a generation or so, will be completely different and far less segmented, as they are now.
Consumer patients will not stand for stonewalling. In fact the opposite is already true. They want their data for the world to see so that the data might help the greater good. The more data available the more likely conditions will actually find cures. Thus, the rise of monitoring and health tracking devices will only grow in scope, moving beyond simple wearables and toward (unfortunately) implantables.
Additionally, as we are already and finally seeing, the telehealth movement shows no signs of slowing down. The point of this story is “instant access” to healthcare. We’ve seen a lot of resistance to this until now, but like it or not, patients are ready for video and text chat. They want immediate access to care wherever they are, without the pointless need to take time from their lives to spend half the day at their doctor’s office for a minor condition. Payers, and regulators, have long drug their feet on this issue and it’s helped keep adoption from taking off. No more. Telehealth is on the verge of innovative breakthroughs, which seemed to come to full fruition this year. Five years from now, the telehealth landscape will not only be far superior to the one we have today (which is in its infancy) but the care types provided with expand and there will be much more comprehensive services provided. Those who do not provide these services, and promote the fact that they provide them, will die. Much like the modern day death of employees working in a cube-filled office, we are now more mobile and need our services wherever we are. The telehealth market we see now is only just the beginning.
Nimbleness will be rewarded. Even while the feds will continue to try to exercise their regulation muscle, consumers’ needs will outpace government and vendor-mandated technology. Consumers will bring health IT to the “free market,” explosively.
Finally, ancillary technology will become healthcare IT’s next big thing or the enterprise level professionals working in the space. EHRs have not lived up to the hype, though they are foundational. Next up are bolt on technologies. Software that helps make the EHRs better. Communications collectors; patient interaction solutions; data analytics, collection and information sifting and sifting; information extraction; real-time sharing; patient collections and remuneration; real information exchange and the like. Bolt-on technologies will likely reign over current systems such as EHRs, which are falling short. For example, communication platforms and services to fill gaps in EHR’s capabilities.
True interoperability is now. Stand-alone solutions like EHRs will be marginalized as foundational technology until better solutions replace them; perhaps new administrative technologies that completely surpass what it offered today. Within the next half decade we should see some real changes (not marketed changes) on this front. Some action and some payoff. Those in healthcare are done talking and trying; they are ready for action now. Like their patient counterparts, they will not stand still, but will find ways to reach their goals in this regard, even if that means building their own systems or tearing their current ones apart.
Change is constant. Nowhere is that more true than in healthcare. The next five years will be more than interesting, the industry will change, possibly in epic ways.