You only need to skim the news to know there are immense changes underway in our country’s healthcare system. This has been spurred on not only by technology, but also the new healthcare economy due to the influx of consumers under the Affordable Care Act. While the $3.8 trillion U.S. healthcare industry stretches to adapt to these changes, there are unquestionably issues that our industry must confront.
For 2015, the Health Research Institute released its annual survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers and conducted interviews with healthcare industry leaders to identify the top industry issues and trends. According to the findings here are the top five that will impact employers, insurers and consumers:
Consumers are concerned about the safety of their personal information. We’ve all see the headlines. Data breaches are consistently impacting all industries. HRI denotes that 68% of the survey respondents are worried about the security of their data stored in smartphone health apps and 76% said they were concerned about the overall security of their medical data.
Response: Concerns over data breaches are very real and can happen in any industry. Personal health care data in the wrong hands can be damaging and it is recommended that the health care ecosystem – from hospitals, to vendors and health care providers – each take equal responsibility in safeguarding patient information. Working alongside third-party experts to closely monitor systems for any signs of malicious activity will help protect the safety and privacy of consumer’s information.
Consumers and regulators are demanding greater transparency from insurers, providers, and pharmaceutical and life sciences companies. HRI argues that the healthcare industry must prepare for the growing demand for transparency not only from consumers, but regulators as well.
Response: I frequently speak to business and industry leaders about the importance of transparency in the healthcare system and how it directly impacts cost and quality while helping patients make good choices on how they spend their healthcare dollar. Transparency not only empowers the consumer to make educated decisions based on their benefit design, but it also can support the industry as a whole in our effort to contain costs, increase quality, and provide a better overall customer experience.
Consumers are ready for non-physician caregivers to do more. According to the survey, 75% of the participants told HRI that they were open to clinical, physician or healthcare “extenders.” This is a term used for a healthcare provider who is not a physician, but able to perform medical activities typically completed by a physician, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Response: This is also a key component of achieving cost containment across the system. Consumers are asking their providers and insurers to provide more convenient, less costly options – especially those managing a chronic condition. Consumers now have the choice to receive treatment outside a traditional hospital setting and enjoy the convenience and quality a site of care facility can offer. Some patients may even be able to receive their medication or care in the comfort of their homes – all at a lower cost.
Physicians are embracing do-it-yourself health care even faster than the consumer. While only one-fifth of surveyed consumers stated that they would use an at-home urinalysis device, almost half of the physicians questioned said that they would use the data from this test to prescribe medication or to better assess whether the patient should be seen or not.
Response: However, according recent data, it’s predicted that globally the number of consumers using telehealth services will increase from less than 350,000 in 2013 to roughly seven million in 2018.
Health plans must recognize and embrace the impact technology is having on the industry. Those that adopt new ways of caring for patients via technology and virtual services will ultimately benefit from greater patient satisfaction. This may also result in the improved utilization of preventive and urgent care services.
Millennials prioritize work-life balance over health benefits.
Response: Because of this shift in attitude towards how healthcare is approached, it’s important that employers and insurers begin rethinking benefit design to establish new ways of keeping the millennial workforce engaged and feeling rewarded. Providing a flexible work environment, as well as many plan options to cater to different lifestyles, will be a critical component for continued success in this ever-changing environment.
The healthcare industry will continue to evolve, and it’s important that everyone in the ecosystem consider the patient first and give consumers what they want - the most cost-effective, high quality healthcare for themselves and their families.
Don Antonucci is the president of Regence BlueShield, where he directs and guides the company’s business objectives and community engagement efforts. This commentary originated at Employee Benefit News, a SourceMedia publication.
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