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Healthcare 2020: Patients as well-connected, savvy care consumers

I’m more optimistic than ever about the future of healthcare in the United States. The work that began with investment from the HITECH stimulus act of 2009 is now bearing fruit.

We operate on a fully digital platform connected to healthcare consumers. This digitization has led innovations that were inconceivable decade ago. In the next 10 years from now, we’ll view 2019 as a transformative year that ushered in the next generation of healthcare delivery.

The practice of medicine has been permanently changed because of the work done over the past decade to digitize it. The consumer of care – the patient – clearly benefits from this.

Now, here’s a look at what I see ahead for 2020:

Consumers of healthcare will take the lead.

Patients have never had more access to information about their health, including potential options to improve or maintain their condition. Due to the prevalence of high-deductible health plans, a greater share of the cost and decision-making about healthcare rests with each patient.

With the health record now fully digitized, information is available in more formats and can be acted upon instantly.

At the same time – in part because of rising cost to individuals, at least in the U.S. – more patients are actively investing in their health to stay well. They are now beginning to understand how unhealthy behaviors can impact their pocketbooks in the long run.

When they become ill, patients increasingly focus on learning more through online communities that are growing in popularity.

The era of the passive patient is gone, as it should be. Consumers of healthcare will demand better tools to take care of themselves.

A Rice University policy brief on the topic summed up the trend this way:

“Tools that work to improve the quality of decision-making and provide incentives that encourage smarter ‘healthcare shopping’ will also be crucial as we move forward,” the report authors stated. “It is widely agreed that fiscal incentives can be a powerful lever for behavioral change, if harnessed well. Creating arrangements whereby consumers get to keep a portion of any savings generated from utilizing a lower cost option would go a long way toward engaging the public in health system changes.”

More people will seek care outside of the physician office and hospital walls.

The delivery of chronic care no longer happens primarily inside a doctor’s office. The same is true for more complex care and hospitals. In fact, now nearly 75% of all surgical procedures occur at ambulatory centers, not hospitals.

Advanced digital communication technologies make possible the delivery of chronic care in remote locations, such as at home. Your laptop or mobile device now substitutes for the doctor’s office.

In rural communities, it’s more commonplace to find nurses performing emergency procedures with a physician linking in via video teleconference. Providers will more effectively harness telehealth and other technologies that link rural patients to life-saving care.

The need for this is real as rural hospitals are closing at an increasing rate and more than 50 million Americans live in what the federal government calls “healthcare shortage areas.”

Healthcare technology solutions open new possibilities in any setting, but especially for those living in rural communities where traditional options are limited. Rural patients that lack access to the care they need can leverage the right HIT partner to deliver solutions that reduce cost, maximize value, and cross traditional barriers while improving the health and wellbeing of the community.

Technology solutions can and should help bring these communities closer together, address the challenges they face, and stimulate hope.

Elevated patient relationships with health devices.

Health trackers of all types are now the norm rather than the exception. And, in some instances, a patient’s reliance on the data generated by those devices may be more important to their wellness than are episodic physician office visits.

Traditional patient portal solutions will no longer fulfill patient’s expectations as consumers.. The landscape is changing rapidly, and mobile patient engagement tools will take hold in 2020 and help strengthen the provider-patient relationship.

Healthcare is moving to enable patients to schedule appointments, secure last-minute spots in line, and search for a doctor in their new town (sorted by patient rating). Establishing patient engagement this way is important, because consumers who feel a connection with their health system or provider are more likely to remain patients.

These devices enable self-management to such a degree that a variety of improvements in patient behaviors are evident now, such as better care plan and medication adherence.

Other industries – finance and even restaurants – have unlocked mobile as a key part of customer engagement programs. In 2020, healthcare will harness this opportunity as a strategy to keep patients happy and loyal.

Conclusion

This is a great time to be involved in HIT and have a seat on the front-row of its most strategic innovations. We’re so lucky to be able to help those who take care of patients every day to make better health possible.

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