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5 healthcare trends to look out for in 2014

December 18th, 2013

by Kent Bottles

While my list of top five trends for hospital leaders to watch in 2014 cannot compete with the Pantone Color Institute's prediction that Radiant Orchid will be next year's color of the year, these healthcare trends could spell the difference between success and failure for your healthcare organization.

1. "It's the Prices Stupid"

The above heading is the title of a 10-year-old article that points out higher healthcare spending and lower use of services results in much higher American prices than in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

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This year, Steven Brill's Time Magazine article "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us" and Elisabeth Rosenthal's New York Times series "Paying Till It Hurts" alerted the general public to pay more attention to the high prices of medical care. By providing consumers with accurate prices and endorsing increased transparency, hospital leaders would be wise to get out in front of this issue, which isn't going away.

2. Healthcare at your fingertips, not in the hospital

Mobile health is a trend hospital executives need to give more attention, especially as the migration of some care out of the hospital into the community grows. Millennials send an average of 88 text messages a day, and a quarter of Facebook's 1 billion users are mobile only. Does your hospital have a mobile healthcare strategy? Is your hospital system website mobile friendly? Your community should view your hospital as a trusted source of advice about the best healthcare smartphone and tablet apps for diabetes monitoring or losing weight or sleep issues?

3. Non-equity collaborative arrangements

The consolidation of hospitals and medical practices as a response to the Affordable Care Act and the transition from fee-for-service to value-based payment systems will continue. Some hospital leaders are turning to non-equity collaborative arrangements that promise the benefits of being part of a larger network while maintaining governance independence. Several critical access hospitals in the Midwest are exploring this option, and the AllSpire Health Partners consortium of 25 hospitals in the Northeast came together to partner on using the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim to decrease per-capita cost and increase clinical quality.

4. Big data = Big savings for hospitals
Savvy hospital leaders will follow the lead of executives in other industries to start to harness the power of big data predictive analytics. According to Frost & Sullivan, only 10 percent of American hospitals in 2011 were using data analytic tools. With McKinsey estimating this approach has $338 billion of annual value to U.S healthcare, more leaders will investigate how to use analytics.

The recent development of open source big data analytic platforms and the increased affordability of cloud computing solve the expensive problem hospital executives previously faced of owning and managing their own data warehouses. Early adopters like the MultiCare System in Washington State claim they discovered $2 million in missed charges by using algorithms and data analytics. California's Heritage Provider Network hosted a $3 million competition for data analytics experts to predict the number of days patients would spend in hospital over the coming year.

5. Socialnomics: Think Facebook and Twitter

Hospital systems that leverage the power of social media will continue to differentiate themselves in an industry that is slow to adopt new technology. Social media can increase brand awareness, acquisition of new consumers, activation of new and existing consumers, and patient loyalty.

"Patients are bonding with their network of providers, and wellness programs are deploying social apps for activity and calorie tracking with inspiration coming from healthcare-based rewards to gamification. And, patient-to-patient dialogue has never been greater through social health networks such as PatientsLikeMe, MedHelp, DailyStrength, and CureTogether," states a KBM Group whitepaper.

Hospital leaders tell me there has never been this much uncertainty and change in the last 50 years. While nobody can predict the future with certainty, executives who understand these five trends will be ahead of the game. Follow the advice of Wayne Gretzky, who explained how he scored so many goals: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."

Kent Bottles, M.D, is a lecturer at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health and chief medical officer of PYA Analytics.

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