Top 10 trends shaping the health industry in 2016

We know healthcare employees are already using technology in the workplace. We know consumers are increasingly using emerging technologies to stay engaged in their care. But what role will these forces play in 2016?

PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults, experts and clients to find out.

According to PwC's HRI's findings, 2016 will be the year millions of consumers have their first video consult and use their smartphones as diagnostic tools for the first time. Like in years past, many people will use new tools to manage their healthcare expenses, and clinicians will learn to work in new ways, incorporating insights obtained from data analyses into their treatment plans.

Aside from those influences, 2016 is also an election year, and healthcare will be part of the political conversation. Drug pricing in particular has become an issue on the campaign trail.

Here are 10 top healthcare trends shaping the industry in 2016, as outlined by Trine Tsouderos, a director in PwC's HRI.

1. 2016 is the year of merger mania. By mid-year 2015, nearly $400 billion in agreements in healthcare deals had been announced, breaking records set the previous year. Unconventional partnerships across the industry should dominate 2016 as well, according to PwC's HRI.

Insurers will take center stage as they look to boost negotiating power and seek competitive advantages such as diversified revenue streams from new products, the optimization of IT infrastructure and powerful data analytics.

Additionally, collaborations between independent hospitals and clinician groups/top tier health systems will generate more consumer touchpoints.

"I think going into 2016 we do see [consolidation] continue due to the fact the entire industry is changing and shifting and capital remains cheap, so it's advantageous if you have plans to do it now," Ms. Tsouderos says. "We also kind of see a domino effect of mergers in one part of the industry kind of leading others to do the same and start scaling up. Also, since it's an election year, these questions about mergers and acquisitions will become political quests as well and make their way into the political realm and campaign trails."

2. Goldilocks comes to drug prices. Drug pricing has reached a peak in the U.S. With the rise of high-deductible healthcare plans, consumers are likely to become increasingly frustrated with those high prices, according to PwC's HRI. The firm estimates that under threat of strong government action, pharmaceutical companies may contemplate new models in 2016. "Their focus may be on conveying value, justifying the cost of drugs through complementary programs, or considering alternative financing models," PwC's HRI researchers wrote. Overall, drug pricing continues to be a high-profile topic, according to Ms. Tsouderos. "Lots of players in the industry are kind of playing a tug of war on where the drug prices should be," she says.

3. Care in the palm of your hand. Consumers will not only use their smartphones and tablets for health monitoring, but also to provide anywhere, anytime diagnosis and treatment in 2016. From "bedless" hospitals to smartphone medicine, care can and will increasingly be delivered remotely. PwC's HRI found the percentage of consumers with at least one medical, health or fitness app on their mobile devices has doubled, from 16 percent in 2013 to 32 percent in 2015. In addition, 60 percent of consumers surveyed are willing to have a visit with their physician using their mobile device.

4. Cybersecurity concerns come to medical technology. For the first time in 2016, medical devices such as insulin pumps may see real threats from hackers. "Device companies and healthcare providers will need to be proactive to maintain trust in medical equipment. Network architecture and design will be critical to preventing breaches that could cripple the industry," PwC's HRI researchers wrote. PwC's HRI found half of consumers surveyed would think twice about using any connected medical device after a hacking incident, and 38 percent would be wary of using a hospital associated with the hacked device.

5. The new money managers. In 2016, consumers will begin to manage their health spending like they manage their retirement savings, according to PwC's HRI. As this trend occurs, companies may try to find new ways to solve payment problems. This could include bundling innovative financing with other offerings. For example, healthcare payment and billing will be embedded into broader consumer experiences, similar to the way other industries link spending to rewards, offering frequent flier miles, discounts or points. These models will cater to what consumers want — convenience and value.

6. Behavioral healthcare: no longer on the backburner. PwC's HRI predicts behavioral health will be a key issue in 2016, as one out of five American adults experiences a mental illness every year. These conditions cost businesses across the nation more than $440 billion annually. Employers and healthcare organizations may address behavioral healthcare to keep costs down, productivity up and consumers healthy, according to PwC's HRI.

7. Care moves to the community. Reducing health costs has been part of the healthcare conversation for years. But with mounting budget pressures, health systems in 2016 may pursue lower-cost care settings more aggressively and creatively than before. For instance, in the past 24 months, five out of the top 15 academic medical centers have acquired community hospitals, according to PwC's HRI.

PwC's HRI also estimates the rise of retail clinics will continue next year. Seventy-four percent of clinicians surveyed believe these types of non-traditional venues improve access to care. Sixty-seven percent of consumers who have used retail clinics were "very satisfied" with their experience.

8. New databases improve patient care and consumer health. High hopes surrounding big data investments in healthcare may have been unrealistic in the past. Converting large and diverse datasets into practical insights is a large challenge for any hospital or health system. But in 2016, with the emergence of "non-relational" databases, this could all change and hospitals and health systems may finally be able to use the large quantity of data they have collected, according to PwC's HRI.

Traditional relational databases organize data into columns, rows and tables, forcing information into predetermined categories. While these databases are ideal for information that is easily structured, they cannot handle information such as clinician notes, transcripts and other unstructured data as easily. Newer "non-traditional" databases make it easier to bypass the rigid structure and analyze many different forms of data together.

9. Enter the biosimilars. Biosimilars, products used in medicine that can only be generated from living organisms, will reach the U.S. market in 2016, offering a discount from biologic specialty drug costs, according to PwC's HRI. Four more biosimilars are poised for approval, with another 50 under review by the Food and Drug Administration. PwC's HRI estimates these substitutes for branded biologic drugs will start to offer some counterweight to rising drug prices.

10. The medical cost mystery. Health systems command billions of dollars in revenue, but they often can't identify the cost of the services they provide. That may change in 2016, as stakeholders push for value, according to PwC's HRI. "This will be more than just an exercise to control spend — it could help uncover opportunities to become more efficient and improve care," PwC's HRI researchers wrote.


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