By Waymon Armstrong
CEO, Engineering and Computer Simulations
I had the honor of speaking several weeks ago at the 2016 Florida Health Care Affordability Summit, where I shared our company’s recent product releases in telemedicine and medical simulation. There is no question that the convergence of health care and technology is revolutionizing health care. So the million-dollar question at the summit was: “Where is it all going? What will health care look like in 10, 20, 30 years from now?”
The answer is… that depends.
There are a lot of players in the health care industry and any one of them could initiate enough change in the distribution system to determine the future of health care. It may at times seem like a race to the technology finish line. Who will emerge the winner: health care systems, individual providers, health insurers, employers or patients?
Each will no doubt play a role, but one will likely shape tomorrow’s new health economy.
Large-scale medical systems have already started. They are experimenting with telehealth services to reach under-served markets or provide better accessibility to mobile consumers. At 800 million strong, Baby Boomers heavily influence decisions at hospitals, so forward movement is tempered by the less tech-savvy Boomers. But combined Gen X, Y and Z are nearly twice the size of the Boomer market, and as they age, these tech-friendly consumers will not consider telemedicine a convenience but an absolute necessity. Health systems that embrace the evolution early will emerge as market leaders.
Last year, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was the first health care system to launch a virtual medical center.
Patients never leave their home to see a doctor in an online examining room or connect with other patients for support. Some people might be surprised to learn the VHA led this evolution of online hospitals, but it was born out of necessity as innovation often is.
The VHA needs to serve a growing number of veterans returning home from the Middle East and Afghanistan. A few months later, Mercy Health System opened a brick-and-mortar hospital with no beds, only medical staff who look in on patients at all of the system’s hospitals.
But if health care providers don’t grab the market leadership position, insurers may. Having been mostly a silent partner in healthcare, insurers have increasingly taken more control in the pharmaceutical sector, determining which medication customers buy and where they buy. If insurers replicate that model in patient care to contain costs, they will soon own a larger piece of the health care market. Insurers could easily partner with new web services, such as Doctor on Demand and Health Tap, to do that. These sites allow patients to be examined by doctors for minor complaints (hold your iPad to your throat and say, “Ahh.”), and then get a prescription. At $40 per visit, it is an attractive and convenient alternative. Insurers already provide nurse consults to customers. It’s a logical extension.
How will employers and health care consumers fare? As always, both just want quality care at a reasonable price, and they will likely support whatever option gives them that.
So, where is this all going, and what will health care look like in 10, 20, 30 years from now?
The answer is…that depends on who makes it to the technology finish line. Those that leverage new technologies most effectively, and evolve with it, will shape the way we all see our doctors tomorrow, or perhaps our virtual doctors.