After a year of unanticipated results, 2017 suggests continued upheaval in healthcare

It would be an understatement to say that 2016 was a year of unanticipated results.

I expect 2017 will be another fascinating year for providers, patients, suppliers and payers. As president and CMO of LeanTaaS, I expect to have a front-row seat in partnership with the 30+ leading health systems we work with all over the country. So I’ve dusted off my crystal ball to speculate on trends worth watching in 2017. Here’s my take:

1. Healthcare provider consolidation will continue. Mega-mergers, like those of Anthem with Cigna and Aetna with Humana, may just be the beginning. In the environment of the new presidency, regulation in the form of antitrust enforcement is likely to be more relaxed. Smaller and mid-market providers may feel forced to explore mergers of their own to retain competitiveness with these already market-leading providers.

2. Investment in healthcare startups by providers will accelerate. Large healthcare providers are beginning to understand that with all their brilliant physicians, dedicated support staff, and excellent clinical and administrative leaders, the technological innovation needed to solve the complex issues in healthcare resides outside their organizations and core competencies. By investing in early- and mid-stage technology companies, forward-thinking providers gain not only a potential financial windfall but also an early market advantage when deploying innovative solutions, especially those that leverage machine learning, predictive analytics, and data science.

3. Technology — not policy — will continue to drive advances in healthcare. Providers have made significant investments in EHR, business intelligence solutions, and Lean/Six Sigma initiatives and will be looking for ways to amplify the impact of those investments on their business. It seems clear that technology outside the margins of an EHR will be needed. These EHR systems — some as much as 30 years old — were simply not designed to include predictive analytics, have no machine learning ability, and lack any data science underpinnings whatsoever.

4. Regardless of the ultimate fate of the ACA, the demand for healthcare services will continue its rapid climb. With an aging population and a higher incidence of chronic disease, combined with pressure from payers to eliminate waste, healthcare providers will look for solutions that help them meet more of the demand with the resources in which they have already invested. 2017 may prove to be the year that healthcare providers must do more — a lot more — with less.

5. Safeguarding patient information security and privacy will continue to be an industry hot button, with good reason. According to the HIPAA Journal, more than 113 million healthcare records were exposed or stolen as a result of healthcare data breaches in 2015. Even more troubling, consumer protections — like the Fair Credit Billing Act which limits a consumer’s stolen credit card liability to $50 — do not exist for victims of healthcare identity theft. Hopefully, it won’t take another massive data breach in 2017 to call state and federal legislators’ attention to the need to address this issue.

Even if none of the prognostications come to pass exactly as I’ve laid out, it seems certain that healthcare providers need to gear up for a year of whirlwind change. I believe those who identify and embrace early opportunities to innovate by partnering with early- and mid-stage technology companies will be in a better position to compete, drive advances, meet the rising demand for healthcare, and safeguard patient security and privacy.

 

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