The healthcare ecosystem in the United States, and globally, has been severely impacted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to the Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration which gave rise to digital health startups and the adoption of new technologies and practices like telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
However, the next phase of our burgeoning healthcare ecosystem began on May 11th, 2023, when the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) minimized or removed healthcare organizations’ abilities to access federal funding and support that was available during the height of the pandemic. In addition to the challenges posed by the end of the PHE, the healthcare industry is also facing a number of other megatrends that are shaping the future of healthcare, including an aging population, rising healthcare costs, technological advances, and changing consumer expectations.
These megatrends are creating a complex and challenging environment for healthcare organizations, but they are also creating opportunities for innovation and improvement. Healthcare organizations that are able to adapt to these changes will be well-positioned to succeed in the future. It is more important than ever to ensure that health equity is prioritized for all people, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This includes promoting health literacy and affordable care, which are essential components of population health.
Evidence-based outcomes are also crucial in providing high-quality care and optimizing patient experiences. The proliferation of data has enabled providers to personalize treatment plans and improve outcomes, but it must be managed responsibly and ethically. By addressing these key areas, the healthcare industry can continue to evolve and better serve the needs of patients in a post-pandemic world. In this article we take a look at 7 megatrends transforming healthcare, and what that means for healthcare organizations.
Megatrend 1: Consumerization of healthcare
Digital health startups broaden the ways people seek care and engage in the healthcare ecosystem
The COVID-19 pandemic has expedited the emergence of digital health startups, particularly those advocating for self-care, which is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. The commodification of healthcare underscores the importance of self-monitoring and preventative care while introducing a novel "shopping" experience for healthcare services. It is crucial to empower individuals of all backgrounds to take control of their health and actively participate in their healthcare in a way that is both affordable and pertinent to their needs.
Research indicates that individuals avoid seeking medical care for four main reasons, including
- Physical and Logistical Barriers to Medical Care (55%)
- Unfavorable Evaluations of Seeking Medical Care (31%)
- Low Perceived Need to Seek Medical Care (11%)
- Personality Traits (3%)
Of these reasons, cost-related factors are the most significant. As consumers increasingly demand cost transparency, an inherent shopping experience in the healthcare ecosystem will develop. Consequently, the freedom to access affordable healthcare options specific to individual needs will contribute to increased health literacy across entire populations.
Megatrend 2: Digital front doors
Diversified access methods aim to educate and engage patients while minimizing ambiguity
The pervasiveness of digital connectivity in modern society has been transformative. Since the dot com bubble, the evolution of the Internet has dramatically changed how people access information and live their lives. Digital front doors, which comprise a healthcare organization's array of digital tools, communication modalities, and messages at specific stages in a patient's healthcare journey, are gaining popularity. These gateways allow patients to experience glimpses of healthcare ecosystems and offer immediate value to patients which can improve patient activation, communication, and satisfaction throughout the healthcare continuum.
Digital front doors can help overcome traditional barriers to medical care and negative perceptions of seeking medical care, as the tools and communication methods will be available to patients at their convenience. Along with cost-related factors, the most common reasons for not seeking medical care are:
- Not enough time/too busy
- Inconvenient clinic hours
- Transportation difficulties
- Communication issues
- Low confidence in doctor’s expertise
Digital front doors offer significant potential to enhance health equity by improving access to healthcare and empowering patients with the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about their health. A healthcare organization's digital front door is incomplete without its digital footprint, a collection of mechanisms that provide health-related information and foster transparency with patients.
Healthcare organizations must establish appropriate channels and touch points that lead to digital front doors, where patients can access healthcare services in a convenient and accessible format. Engagement and participation in digital front doors will be key factors in promoting health equity, as all patients, regardless of background, will have equal access to information and resources. A societal shift towards better health equity will inform the evolution of digital front doors, enabling healthcare providers to reach underserved populations and improve health outcomes for all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status. As a result, there will be an increase in investment in go-to-market, digital media, and content strategies to promote digital front doors and ensure patients are aware of the resources available to them.
Megatrend 3: Value-based care
Elevating the patient experience increases patient participation
Value-based care models are gaining traction in the United States healthcare industry as a means of improving patient experience and outcomes. Unlike the traditional fee-for-service payment model, value-based care compensates healthcare providers based on the quality of care delivered, incentivizing them to provide more efficient and effective care.
Strategies that incorporate performance standards across the care continuum, including post-acute providers such as skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies, will ultimately be the most successful. This approach also addresses the issue of cost, the primary barrier for individuals seeking healthcare.
Value-based care models prioritize wellness and prevention, recognizing that preventing health issues will reduce the need for medications, non-elective procedures, and one-off treatments. Additionally, value-based care places greater responsibility on patients, encouraging increased participation and engagement in healthcare decision-making, leading to better-informed decisions, improved adherence to treatment plans, and better overall health outcomes.
Megatrend 4: Alternative care delivery models
A patient-centered approach to improving population health
Escalating healthcare costs can be attributed to several drivers, including the prevalence of chronic and preventable diseases, evolving societal expectations, and aging populations. These challenges place significant pressure on the healthcare industry, which is further compounded by workforce shortages.
Traditional healthcare delivery has been disrupted by alternative care methods such as telehealth, virtual care, and in-home care. With telehealth technologies, able patients experience the luxury of not having to leave their homes to meet with a physician or receive appropriate healthcare. Consultations with doctors and other healthcare providers are a leading aspect of telehealth, while others like mental health counseling, physical therapy, medication management, chronic disease management, and screening & early detection of diseases grow in ability and popularity.
Virtual care encompasses telehealth as well as other remote forms of alternative care delivery like online patient portals and mobile health apps. Patients engaging in virtual care can receive services like scheduling and receiving appointment reminders, refilling prescriptions, and obtaining lab results. Virtual care also provides opportunities for patients to explore health education and receive self-management support.
While telehealth and virtual care support have virtual applications that assist physical patient experiences, in-home care treats the patient fully at a location that fully meets their preferences, often inside their own home. In-home care can encompass a wide array of applications like personal care, medication management, housekeeping, meal prep, transportation, and even companionship.
The adoption of these alternatives is gaining momentum due to their cost-effectiveness, convenience, and ability to influence patient outcomes. With patient experience at the forefront of alternative care delivery, each method of care must ensure patients have trustworthy and engaging experiences. The widespread acceptance and use of alternative care methods are increasing as patients assume more significant responsibility for healthcare costs.
Megatrend 5: Precision medicine
Customized treatment plans specific to patient needs
Precision medicine, commonly known as personalized medicine, is a medical approach that utilizes an individual patient's predicted response or disease risk to tailor medical decisions and interventions. This is enabled through the use of genomics and other 'omics' technologies, which generate high-dimensionality data. While precision medicine requires increased individual health information, which raises ethical, legal, and social concerns, its implementation is facilitated by the widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and EHR networks.
For patients, precision medicine offers the opportunity to benefit from the most effective treatment that targets the fundamental driver of their disease while potentially avoiding toxicity. This approach can improve the patient experience by providing customized treatment plans specific to their needs, encouraging value-based care, and reducing financial and time expenditure. Additionally, personalized medicine enables earlier disease detection through the enhanced use of existing biomarkers and the detection of early genomic and epigenomic events in disease development. It focuses mainly on preventive medicine and favors taking proactive measures rather than relying solely on reactive ones.
For payers, precision medicine is an attractive mechanism for controlling the use of expensive drugs and avoiding wasteful expenditure on treatments that are ineffective. Many pharmaceutical companies are committed to the vision of "Right Drug, Right Patient, Right Time," particularly in areas like oncology and neuroscience. This strategy provides the opportunity to achieve substantial clinical advances in specific patient populations compared to currently available non-specific medications, which creates a compelling value proposition and facilitates reimbursement by payers.
Megatrend 6: Self-reported data
Bridging the gaps between patient care visits, and enhancing patient participation
The healthcare industry is experiencing a surge in the diversity of wearable sensors, expanding the collection of patient data. By enabling the collection of patient-generated health data between visits, wearables provide healthcare providers with an unprecedented level of insight into their patients' health status. Consequently, providers can customize care plans better and intervene when patients deviate from their goals, reducing the likelihood of expensive readmissions or emergency department visits.
Wearable technology is particularly valuable in chronic disease and high-risk care management programs aimed at improving patient outcomes and reducing costs for vulnerable populations. To make the most of this novel data source, healthcare organizations must deploy efficient data management systems that can collect, aggregate, filter, store, and analyze these data and integrate the resulting information into clinical workflow. Additionally, the incorporation of self-reported health status, which comprises patient self-reports of symptoms, biological states, and overall health status, is crucial.
Wearable technology also empowers patients to take control of their health. By tracking and monitoring their health status in real time, patients can detect potential health issues earlier and manage their conditions more effectively. This leads to improved health outcomes, as wearable technology provides physicians with more accurate and up-to-date information about their health, enabling them to deliver more personalized and effective treatments.
Megatrend 7: Artificial intelligence
Amplifying function-specific evidence
Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare presents exciting opportunities to expedite disease detection, create personalized treatment plans, and automate various processes. Today, clinical decision support tools using AI allow providers to quickly access relevant information, such as patient medical history, lab results, and treatment options. AI is also being used to improve the accuracy of medical imaging analysis, with tools already being able to automatically identify lesions and other abnormalities in CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs. This can help radiologists spot problems more quickly and accurately, which can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment. Clinical decision support tools can also help providers identify potential risks and complications, and recommend preventive measures.
Similarly, the inclusion of AI-powered virtual assistants promises to simplify and personalize medical experiences across the board. Enhancing a patient’s visit with a personalized experience achieves better results and streamlines the administrative aspect of healthcare. New benefits will be discovered as a healthcare organization’s workflow gets restructured to use more AI applications within its regular operations.
Using artificial intelligence in medicine allows for greater personalization for each patient, which augments and increases the biological insights that can ultimately lead to a streamlined course for individual health and wellness. By leveraging artificial intelligence, healthcare professionals can make more informed decisions based on precise information, thus saving time, reducing costs, and enhancing overall medical record management.
Healthcare organizations must take a comprehensive approach to artificial intelligence and consider its risks as well as benefits. Two critical ethical concerns related to the use of AI are informed consent to use data and, subsequently, data privacy. Providers must be able to confidently express the risks and benefits of AI to any patient, define the roles and responsibilities between doctors and machines, and explain potential issues related to data confidentiality and privacy. Ensuring that practicing physicians are well-versed in artificial intelligence and understand its nuances related to their respective fields is a big hurdle.
Yet another critical concern is the possibility that AI might perpetuate unfair biases if not trained with diverse data sets specific to multiple factors like gender, race, geography, and others. For example, researchers have noted medical imaging applications that have done a worse job at detecting skin cancer in dark-skinned patients when compared to light-skinned patients. Similarly, algorithms trained with gender-imbalanced data do worse at reading chest X-rays for an underrepresented gender.
Considering the most prominent ethical challenges–informed consent to use data, the pressing importance of data privacy, and the potential biases that AI can perpetuate–is incomplete without addressing safety and transparency. Enhancing a patient’s health and wellness should always be the value that any advanced technology provides.
Embracing the Future of Healthcare
Healthcare will continue evolving rapidly with the help of technology, from the benefits and challenges of personalized medicine to the role of artificial intelligence in transforming the industry’s capabilities. Granting more people affordable access to healthcare will help to improve population health. As more people participate and shop for healthcare solutions, patient experience will take the ultimate precedence and completely transform provider-patient interactions. Exponential amounts of data will be recorded and used to provide customized treatment and preventative plans to patients.
If you’re a healthcare organization ready to embrace the future of healthcare, contact Manifold today. Our interdisciplinary team of experts, clinicians, technologists, and strategists is ready and eager to tackle the most difficult problems in healthcare. Contact our Advisory team today to learn more about how we can help your organization embrace the future of healthcare.