Guest post by Torben Nielsen, senior vice president of product at HealthSparq.
Significant policy changes are inevitably on the horizon for health care in 2017. Though the question marks about what is next for our industry seem endless, Americans are wondering how health care costs will change, and if their insurance carrier will continue to provide them with the coverage they need. One thing we know for certain is that health care industry disruptors will continue to innovate in a way that we can’t ignore. That’s why it’s important for health plans and hospitals alike to embrace the technology that could simplify the way people interact with the health care industry.
To that, here are my five predictions for the industry in 2017:
- Artificial intelligence innovations will help people navigate the healthcare system.
From robots and chat bots, to increasing telehealth options, we’re expecting significant innovations in 2017 for both doctors and patients. On the hospital side, chat bots have the potential to streamline the processes that people often get caught up in when visiting their practitioner, or when dealing with insurance protocol. The chat bots of the future will be able to have meaningful conversation that will help people navigate the system, instead of confusing them. A member could say to their health plan, “I’m looking for a cheaper MRI,” and artificial intelligence can help with a more guided search.
- Virtual reality will continue moving into the hospital side of healthcare.
With technology like Oculus Rift and HTC Vibe on the market, people around the world are getting used to the idea of virtual reality in health care, too, and we don’t expect that interest to die down anytime soon. Surgeons are already utilizing virtual reality to practice upcoming surgeries, and patients are beginning to see the benefits of this technology, too. For example, at the University of Southern California combat veterans experiencing PTSD are being treated using virtual reality gaming as a healing mechanism to help process trauma. As these tools continue to get smarter, both hospitals and patients will continue to see virtual reality extend into their care practices more regularly in the coming year.
- Personalization of healthcare technology will help data transfers happen easier.
Block chain technology has potential to help secure EHR data and health plan member information in a way that streamlines the health care journey for both the patient and the provider. Healthcare processes and experiences can feel very stifled and complicated to all parties in the system (that’s why HealthSparq created #WhatTheHealthCare!) because hospitals and health systems are sitting on so much data that is not connected or easily shared. Data fluidity is a goal for the industry, and with new applications of block chain technology, the health care ecosystem may now see data transfers and fluidity happen much more simply, giving everyone a more holistic view of health care status, options and improvement opportunities.
- Providers and health plans will collaborate to bridge the gap between patients.
As technology continues to disrupt the status quo in healthcare, we know that ultimately, clear person-to-person communication is a critical lifeblood of the industry — and it’s also an area where healthcare falls short. There is an opportunity for health care practitioners, administrators, vendors, etc. to all work together to provide patients with a seamless journey throughout the continuum of care. In 2017, we’ll see these groups working better together to provide patients with important information like healthcare costs and transparency regarding billing and treatment needs. We can learn from industries like retail and hospitality to fix prices and operate with much more transparency. At HealthSparq, we’re moving in that direction by helping providers gain access to health care cost information to help guide their patients in the right direction for their care.
- The Affordable Care Act as we know it will either change … or it won’t!
The Republican Party is determined to repeal and replace Obamacare as quickly as possible. The problem is, they only have the votes to repeal the parts that relate to the federal budget – which means taxes and spending. There are only a few things President Trump is able to do on his own with executive powers. So without the ability to replace Obamacare (which will take some Democrats agreeing to the new plan), there will be a long transition period until repeal becomes effective. Even if Obamacare is “repealed on Day One” – it is a partial repeal, and it won’t be right away. During the transition period, we will likely see a move toward even more high-deductible health plan designs. This means that an increased need for people to be informed so they can take control of their health care decisions. Transparency and information is more important than ever in the next wave of health care changes. Regardless of what happens, the entire health care industry must remain flexible and ready for some twists and turns in the next four years!