Healthcare Harvest

harvest-arwen

Blog post by Colin Hung

This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. Although we Canadians don’t celebrate in as grand a fashion as our American friends (there is no Black Friday or post-dinner football), it is still a time of feasting, friends and family. It is one of my favourite times of the year.

Normally for Thanksgiving, we channel the holiday spirit by hosting an #hcldr chat that looks back at the year and we reflect on what we are thankful/grateful for. This year, I thought we would channel the literal interpretation of Thanksgiving. At this time of year, our farming ancestors would celebrate the harvest of crops that they planted in the spring. The seeds they sowed back in April would now be yielding the bounty on their tables.

I wonder what bounty we will reap in healthcare based on the seeds we are sowing right now. Down the road, what will we be harvesting? What will happen as a result of the technologies, policies and attitudes we are planting TODAY? Will we be enjoying a feast or will we be disappointed with a meager crop?

Consolidation

pace-of-hospital-deals-wsj-2015In my role as VP of Marketing at Stericycle Communication Solutions, I get daily reports of physician practices that are being acquired by larger healthcare organizations. Sometimes it is a larger group practice that is the buyer, more often than not, it is a multi-state healthcare provider with multiple anchor hospitals.

Economics is the major driver behind this wave of consolidation. It is frankly harder and harder for physicians to survive economically in an independent practice. The rising cost of insurance, EHRs expenses and staff salaries plus the changes to reimbursement rates have put tremendous pressure on small physician practices. Many are deciding to close and join large health systems – freeing themselves from the IT, staff and regulatory burdens.

I often wonder what the impact of this consolidation will be.

Will we reap the benefits of scalability and be enjoying reduced healthcare costs? Will physician and nurse burn-out be lower because they are less stressed in larger organizations vs smaller practices? Or will we be bemoaning the loss of nimble physician practices who were more willing to buck trends (ie: offer house calls, use technologies to connect with patients)?

Healthcare Technology
For the past 5 years the governments of many countries have been providing financial incentives to hospitals, practices and physicians to adopt electronic health records (EHRs).

tractica_wearablesAlthough the success/failure of these programs is a hot debate topic, there is no doubt that the number of healthcare organizations using EHRs dramatically increased. According to a report by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) , 96% of hospitals are using an EHR in 2016 vs just 71% of hospitals in 2011 (the first year of financial incentives).

Now that much of our healthcare information is being captured electronically, what will we be enjoying a few years from now? Will patients have unfettered access to their health information? Will healthcare organizations be able to share it freely and easily with each other? Will the data yield valuable insights into the efficacy of therapies and treatments?

Also consider the investments we have all made in personal health tracking. The adoption of fitness trackers has grown exponentially and along with it our awareness of our health. Now that each of us can monitor the impact of exercise on our bodies, will we use that data as our new baseline for health? What will be the impact of these fitness trackers 1 year from now? 5 years?

Seeds of Today = Bounty of Tomorrow

All around us investments are being made in healthcare. Organizations are investing not only in technologies, but new therapies, better ways to motivate staff and new delivery channels (like telehealth). There are even some “rebel” organizations who are attempting to turn healthcare on its head – Flip the Clinic and TurnTable Health for example.

Which of these “seeds of change” will take root and yield our bounty in the years to come? When we look back a year or two from now, what benefits will we be enjoying at our Healthcare Thanksgiving table?

Please join us on Tuesday October 11th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) when the #hcldr community will gather to discuss the following topics:

  • T1 How will the acquisition of small physician practices today, impact the delivery of health tomorrow? Will we be better/worse/same?
  • T2 How will the investments in electronic health record systems benefit patients and providers in 2 years? 5 years?
  • T3 Will fitness trackers have a lasting impact on healthcare 2 years from now? What will we reap from this investment?
  • T4 What “seeds” (ideas, policies or tech) planted today in healthcare gives you hope for a bounty 2 years down the road?

References

“Top Trends Revolutionizing the Market for Wearable Devices”, Vera Gruessner, MHealth Intelligence, 24 August 2015, http://mhealthintelligence.com/news/top-trends-revolutionizing-the-market-for-wearable-devices, accessed 8 October 2016

“Health care consolidation: Which way is up, and why are we going there?”, Ronald A Wirtz, FedGazette, 29 October 2015, https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/fedgazette/health-care-consolidation-which-way-is-up-and-why-are-we-going-there, accessed 8 October 2016

“Behind healthcare’s M&A boom”, Bill Woodson, Fortune, 18 August 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/08/18/healthcare-ma-aetna-anthem-cigna/, accessed 8 October 2016

“Monopolizing medicine: Why hospital consolidation may increase healthcare costs”, Scott Baltic, Modern Medicine, 24 February 2014, http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/content/tags/hospital-employment/monopolizing-medicine-why-hospital-consolidation-?page=full, accessed 8 October 2016

“Health-Care Providers, Insurers Supersize”, Anna Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/health-care-providers-insurers-supersize-1442850400, accessed 8 October 2016

“Data suggest hospital consolidation drives higher prices for privately insured”, Melanie Evans, Modern Healthcare, 15 December 2015, http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20151215/NEWS/151219906, accessed 8 October 2016

“How can independent physicians survive the new health care climate?”, Richard Gunderman, KevinMD, 22 April 2015, http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2015/04/how-can-independent-physician-survive-the-new-health-care-climate.html, accessed 8 October 2016

‘ObamaCare’s Threat to Private Practice”, Scott Gottlieb, Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/scott-gottlieb-obamacares-threat-to-private-practice-1417990367, accessed 8 October 2016

“Hospitals achieve 96% EHR adoption rate; data exchange still needs work”, Joseph Conn, Modern Healthcare, 31 May 2016, http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20160531/NEWS/160539990, accessed 8 October 2016

Image Credit

Harvest – Arwen Twinkle Lettkeman https://flic.kr/p/9pVE7n

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