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5 major healthcare trends to think about

June 18th, 2014

by Andrea J. Simon

There are so many changes, innovations, market shifts and consumer behavior options taking place in the healthcare industry that many clients have been looking for a clear road map. Without the traditional "best practices" to modify or adopt, responding to change was much more than a challenge for many--it was almost a crisis. Like the proverbial "deer in headlights," it was safer to freeze than to move.

From fall 2013 to the beginning of summer 2014, I presented a series of webinars on healthcare innovation, created by Simon Associates Management Consultants. I will share with Hospital Impact readers the thread woven throughout the trends and captured by the eight experts I assembled as webinar leaders. In this post, I summarized the core trends that emerged throughout the webinar series, and I will dig deeper into each of them in upcoming blog posts.

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Here are the top five trends worth thinking about for your healthcare organization:

Consumers are changing. And they are doing so in a number of important ways for healthcare institutions. As Linda MacCracken discussed in our third webinar, "Consumer Data, Insights and Innovation," a culture's values, beliefs and behaviors vary widely in terms of generational differences.

Demography is really destiny. If you are a Gen Y and have grown up digital, playing soccer on teams rather than stick ball in the street like your parents did, you think about your healthcare options differently than your Boomer parents do, and very differently than your grandparents' "silent generation" did.

  1. Choice is key. For example, in one illustrative story, a hospital system CEO's daughter checked her iPad to see which doctors were in her area and had available appointments before selecting one when she had a bronchial condition. Another story focused on a woman who needed knee surgery and went online to find the right doctor with the right training, in the right market at the right price point, and with the best outcomes. As deductibles rise and information is readily available at the click of a mouse, the "educated" consumer has real choice and is using it.
  2. Healthcare institutions are changing in many different ways. However, there's no single model or successful integrated delivery network dominating the "best practice" as yet. This offers a lot of opportunities for a number of market adaptations reflecting the culture of the healthcare system and that of their employers and consumers. Regional and local diversity is still strong, yet national systems form with cultures and practice methodologies focused on best outcomes at lowest costs.
  3. With major healthcare leaders predicting the consolidation of systems into a strong few, smaller stand-alone hospitals and unaffiliated physicians struggle with their future viability. This is particularly apparent as hospitals affiliate to create population health-based networks, such as Ascension Health in Michigan--a clinically integrated network and one of the largest and most closely aligned organizations of its kind in the nation.
  4. Speed of service is crucial, as is the need to drive down costs. The consumer is driving this as much as the healthcare institutions are enabling it. Speed comes in many flavors. For example, the pediatricians at Firefly After Hours Pediatrics in Stamford, Connecticut, have office hours from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. because that's when children's parents can bring them. They've also added concierge medicine to their mix for day-visits and well-child care. Walgreens offers healthcare clinics for chronic illnesses and two-hour lab tests that make the results available to your doctor before a visit.
  5. Healthcare digitization and delivery are booming. As Sam Basta, M.D., discussed in our eighth webinar, "Healthcare Delivery and Experience Innovation: A Core Competency for Integrated Delivery Systems," the physician is no longer the sole repository of all the information a person needs to diagnose, treat or manage their illness. From Fitbit® bands to websites such as PatientsLikeMe, consumers take more control of their health and share with others their illness issues and approaches to caring for or curing their conditions.

Several other themes emerging from the presentations and research. Those include the importance of big data and digitalization of information, for one, and the changing landscape for physicians in the new hospital-payer-physician world. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts when I dig deeper into these trends and their far-reaching implications for all of healthcare.

Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D., is a former marketing, branding and culture change senior vice president at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. A corporate anthropologist, she also is president and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants.

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