The evolving patient experience and other innovation drivers: 3 predictions for 2019

New healthcare regulations, growing advancements in the delivery of care and the wider adoption of patient-centric practices are all pivotal factors influencing innovation in healthcare in 2019. Each will have a fundamental impact on the future of healthcare for payers, providers and - most notably - patients, but the pace of progression will unquestionably vary.

Here are a few predictions regarding innovations and industry trends that you should expect to witness in the year ahead.

Evolution in the delivery of care
The lines are becoming further blurred between traditional, physical provider-patient interaction and burgeoning telehealth care practices. More and more, we’ll witness these two methods of care delivery being combined. Patients will discover that their initial primary and specialist care along with portions of ongoing care management can all be conducted remotely. In certain areas of practice, studies have shown that a telehealth platform can perform just as well as a visit to the doctor’s office in terms of patient outcome. Advancements in telehealth and related technologies - including increased wireless connectivity, patient data delivery and analysis, intelligent sensors and AI and robotics - will continue to play a significant role and ultimately enable the remote care evolution.

Another trend swiftly altering the delivery of care is that of healthcare growing increasingly consumer-driven. The wide array of new healthcare technology startups are impressive and validating proof points. Zocdoc, PillPack and Capsule, among others, are essentially consumer-empowering ventures bypassing the mainstream medical establishment. These thriving companies are financed in part by major B2C corporations operating outside of the healthcare industry, such as Amazon and Apple. Having just returned from HIMSS 2019, I came across Tyto Care and DermEngine as examples of newer entrants into this space.

The delivery of traditional, in-person care will also become further optimized to benefit the patient in 2019. One way that healthcare decision makers will achieve this is by developing, building and opening supplementary micro hospitals, urgent care centers and purpose-driven outpatient facilities catered to specific patient needs. As these gain prevalence and become more widely available to patients in both urban and rural areas, all parties within the healthcare ecosystem will benefit. Delays and wait times will decrease and hospital overcrowding will diminish, cutting costs and improving efficiencies across the board.

Regulations will support innovation
Newly introduced regulations are encouraging a consequential shift in the way health systems operate, as well. Price transparency, in particular, will transform the healthcare ecosystem. With the new mandate implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in effect as of January 1, hospitals nationwide are now required to make procedure pricing and various costs available to the public online. The intent of the policy is to provide increased cost visibility for patients, enabling them to make better-informed decisions regarding where, how and from which provider they receive treatment.

This unprecedented patient access to the financial arm of healthcare will drive fundamental shifts expected to echo sector-wide. The move towards a patient-driven financial model - combined with the growing occurrence of direct-to-patient startups - will be crucial in supporting the consumerization of healthcare. Once patients can adequately make healthcare choices based on cost and preference as they do within other markets and industries, they’ll have the power to drive down prices and encourage competition within the healthcare marketplace.

Although the immediate benefits for payers and providers are slightly less clear than those for patients, the positive effects of consumerization and market competition will have a ripple effect in the coming years. While healthcare systems are facing the initial shock of price transparency, it will ultimately allow providers to offer competitive pricing and service models to attract new patients and drive revenue. As it is within any other consumer-facing industry, healthy competition will be good for business.

While price transparency may eventually inspire a revolutionary overhaul of the healthcare industry’s financial arm, it will take years to witness the larger impacts. One factor creating the mandate’s slow trickle effect is the fundamental gap that exists between what posted treatment prices reflect and what patients will actually pay. This is, of course, due to the existing structure in which hospitals and health systems negotiate prices differently with Medicare and other insurance providers. Because of this fluctuation in pricing amongst various payers and patients, prices shown online will be unable to accurately predict what each individual will pay. Research shows that medical providers themselves aren’t even able to correctly estimate the cost of care.

Another regulation expected to spur innovation is a new rule introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). Intended to empower patients with more choice and control within their care, the rule asks for a more regulated, accessible interface for electronic health information (EHI) industry-wide. This could soon allow patients to securely access their health records directly from their phones or other personal devices.

Enhanced focus on the patient experience
At the end of the day, both increased price transparency and patient access and the evolving delivery of care are simply supporting elements within one of the largest trends influencing the sector today - health systems are striving to provide a better patient experience. Stakeholders throughout the industry have begun to consider how they can implement a holistic approach to serving patients, rather than treating them only through the narrow lens of a specific health condition.

For providers, there is incredible incentive to further hone a patient-centric strategy. It’s been shown that patient engagement levels directly correlate with and affect patient outcomes. A holistic patient experience spans physical, emotional and mental health, focusing on safety and infection control, stress reduction, as well as increased patient comfort and activation. Not only will a patient-centric approach help care teams improve treatment delivery and patient outcomes, but it also benefits them in terms of feedback structures (such as HCAHPS scores) and can even positively affect their larger hospital cultures. Health systems with higher patient engagement rates tend to demonstrate stronger employee engagement, as well.

From a facility development perspective, healthcare decision makers are beginning to more widely adopt human-centered design practices. When looking towards the future through the rise of smart hospitals, in the next few years, such facilities will evolve beyond sleek buildings, touchscreens and robotic assistance to think more comprehensively. A true smart hospital includes the process of how the facility is designed, realized and operated each day. It enables an intelligent workflow for care teams and seamless interactions with the technology that is implemented.

Today, leading providers and insurers such as Kaiser-Permanente, Highmark, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Mayo Clinic and many others each exhibit in-house human factors as well as human-centered design practices. The objective for these internal teams is to review technologies, products and devices to find what is the best fit for them. They are quickly finding that it’s not one size fits all for all providers. In a recent conversation with the leader of a top HCD practice, they shared with me that they found the top-selling dialysis chair in the market was inadequate for their needs after it was reviewed and tested in their simulation lab by their oncology nursing staff. After further consultation with its staff and HCD team, the organization chose another. This is just a small, simple example of how new human factors thinking is being applied at all levels of the organization.

The changes within the Medicare Advantage structure - allowing benefits to cover health and treatment-related costs such as transportation and nutrition - act as yet another proof point in the industry-wide shift towards human-centered design.

Grant Geiger is the founder and CEO of EIR Healthcare, an award-winning modular innovation firm bringing efficient industrial practices to healthcare, laboratory and life sciences. The company is innovating accessible healthcare using evidence-based design and modular technology to improve patient outcomes and value for all stakeholders - initially with its flagship product, MedModular, a “smart hospital room in a box.” Reach Grant on LinkedIn and via email at ggeiger@eirhealthcare.com.

 

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