10 top health industry trends for 2017

Technology solutions are expected to play a role in solving healthcare challenges.

Technology solutions are expected to play a role in solving healthcare conundrums.

The election of Donald J. Trump as President will begin a new era for the healthcare industry, which has spent years adapting to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, despite potential policy changes in Washington, the shift to value-based care is likely to continue, believes the Health Research Institute of PwC.

“This shift to value can be felt in the quest to use emerging technologies—from artificial intelligence to blockchain to virtual reality—to find efficiencies for consumers and business operations,” the recently released report from PwC states.

PwC’s Health Research Institute commissioned an online survey of 1,750 US adults and dozens of interviews with health industry leaders. Here are the trends it foresees for the year ahead.

The face of the Affordable Care Act remains unclear

President-elect Trump has claimed that repealing and replacing the ACA will be one of his top priorities, although details in early January were not clear, and a complete repeal of the law will be daunting because of the slim majority that Republican lawmakers have in the Senate. Some fear that ACA-fueled efforts “to push the industry toward value-based care could wither.”

IT implications: PwC suggests that health systems should “scenario plan for what they plan to do if, as expected, consumers face higher premium increases and if that will translate to gains or losses of insured consumers. This could add new challenges and complexity for revenue-cycle management systems.

Patients become strategic partners with pharmaceutical firms

Pharmaceutical companies will counter pressures on their prices by better engaging with patients to justify prices, show value and satisfy demands by regulators who want them to work more closely with patients who use their products. Technology will enable big pharma companies to create closer linkages, PwC says.

IT implications: Companies are developing inventive ways to engage with patients, including mobile apps and other services. For example, an app developed by Eli Lilly helps patients remember to take its once-a-week diabetes drug. Takeda launched a program called iBData to help patients with inflammatory bowel disease track their symptoms with a smartwatch application.

Easing ‘the training wheels' off value-based payment

Providers will face increasing downside risk, starting with 2017, as they bear more financial vulnerability under risk-based arrangements. For example, 2017 is the first performance year for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), and physicians will be asked to participate in one of two payment tracks, both of which emphasize downside risk.

IT implications: Increased risk will put a higher premium on the ability of providers to assess their current state, analyze performance and scale up their infrastructure to deliver tailored care management solutions based on specific needs.

Modernizing payment options for patients

PwC predicts that 2017 will be the year that health systems begin to modernize payments in preparation for creating more consumer-centered experiences, because a significant number of consumers told the consultancy that their experiences with hospital billing and payment damaged their opinions of the organizations.

IT implications: Customer experience transformation projects “should be built atop standardized, low-risk, low-complexity, secure and modern payment systems,” the PwC report says. Increased security also needs to be designed into any new payment redesign.

Time to prepare for emerging technologies

The health industry lags behind other industries in deploying emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and virtual reality. PwC contends that 2017 is the year to prepare for the eventual arrival of these technologies and their impacts on business models, operations, workforce needs and cybersecurity risks.

IT implications: Healthcare providers need to take a wide view of emerging technologies and not just adopt them individually, as point solutions, rather than exploring how they work together. They’ll also need to consider where they’ll find the talent to support these new frontiers, and how to ensure they are secure from hacking.

The battle against infectious diseases sparks invention

In 2017, millions of dollars will be designated for drug and device industry projects aimed at combating the spread of infectious diseases. At the same time, industry and regulators are working together to develop rapid diagnostics aimed at infectious diseases that have grabbed headlines. Improving diagnosis of infectious diseases is one of the biggest challenges to be faced, PwC believes.

IT implications: Sharing information will be key in getting the latest information on infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus. Also, PwC sees a growing need for using mobile technology to locate and diagnose patients. Smartphones can aid in getting information to people, and they can feed information back to enable public health officials to better react to outbreaks.

Nutrition takes a more central role in health

The drive toward value-based care is prompting established health organizations and new entrants to focus on nutrition as a way to prevent costly medical problems and improve the overall health of the populations they serve. The growing awareness of the importance of diet as a key driver of healthcare costs is fueling the creation of inventive programs and collaborations.

IT implications: For provider organizations, it will be important to equip consumers with relevant and actionable information that they trust. Survey data from the 2016 Consumer Survey of PwC Health Research Institute show that 79 percent of consumers want nutritional advice through their physicians.

Drug companies put the brakes on prices

Public demand for drug pricing accountability, pushback from drug purchasers and the potential for new price control regulations are prompting drug company executives to embrace voluntary codes of conduct to rein in the kinds of pricing practices that have led to congressional shaming, executive resignations and global drug access barriers.

IT implications: PwC is advising healthcare organizations to commit to transparent and responsible pricing practices when it comes to drug prices.

A year of new partnerships and collaborations

The health industry will continue to consolidate through mergers and acquisitions in 2017, but the New Year also likely will bring an uptick in alternative transactions, such as joint ventures, partnerships, strategic alliances and clinical affiliations. The broad industry shift to pay for value is accelerating this trend. These approaches offer platforms for exploring new models of care delivery with capable partners.

IT implications: Key to effective partnerships is adequate exchange of information, putting a premium on IT capabilities of the partners. And some of the new collaborations involve technology companies—for example, Aetna this past fall announced a partnership with Apple to provide smartwatches to its nearly 50,000 employees as well as select plan members.

Medical students prepare to enter a value-based world

Medical students who matriculate in 2017 will graduate into a health industry shaped by the shift to value-based care. Future physicians will need to be comfortable working on cross-discipline teams, and continually improve on value, cost and quality of care. At some medical schools, students are learning how to measure the effects of interventions on patient outcomes, continuously improve care and lead teams of caregivers.

IT implications: While current medical students and residents have been raised with technology, applying it to improve care delivery will require familiarity and expertise with different IT tools that delve into analytics, population health management and care management.

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