Abreviated Vision of the Future of Health Care

Why aren’t more health care organizations using social media to connect with patients and their community?” is a question posed to the LinkedIn discussion group, Innovations in Health. What follows is my response.

RFID diagnostic skin patchWhile HIPAA and regulatory oversight can inhibit progress, that’s not all bad unless extreme. On the other hand, social & political pressures can drive progress, and technology can enable it.

As an amateur futurist, I often view various potential future outcomes from three perspectives: (1) extrapolating trends, (2) examining market inhibitors, and (3) considering market drivers and enablers. Progress happens more quickly when #2 is minimized and #3 is maximized. So here’s what I foresee.

Artificial intelligence in Watson-like cloud computing services will combine with the remote monitoring of medical sensor devices and other mHealth technologies to move more & more physician functions down-market to PAs, NPs, RNs, aids, and patients themselves. Retail medi-clinics and tele-doc services will offload work that doesn’t need to be done in a hospital or doctor’s office, and new business models will cross state lines, causing a future shakeup of medical licensing.

Most states already allow physicians to take calls from patients traveling out of state or out of the country, and patients can consult their primary care physician when they’re at a conference out of state. So the next step seems to be to extend the telework concept to healthcare and allow organizations to hire the best talent no matter where they live, and give patients access to that talent without promoting medical tourism.

Social media, which is relatively new but has already had a profound effect on how we communicate, will evolve with regular video calls between patients, doctors, nurses and unpaid caretakers. And while many physicians today see this as a threat, thus an inhibitor, patients with online access to sites like PatientsLikeMe.com are becoming much more engaged in their own health and welfare.

Along with these other trends will be political pressure to extend health reform to focus even more on prevention, poverty, and the growing wealth gap. It’s telling that, from HBO’s “The Weight of the Nation,” public health officials can accurately gauge average weight by zip code and have found that longevity can vary 10 years between poor and affluent neighborhoods on different sides of the same city. This trend is unsustainable, so either politicians will act to fix it, or angry voters will replace them.


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