The Biggest Threats To The Healthcare Business In The Next Decade


 
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By Jonathan Ford Hughes

Sick people will always need care, and healthy people will always need guidance on how to stay healthy. But will they always receive both from the healthcare industry in its current form? Chances are, probably not. Several challenges to the healthcare business have been emerging over the past decade, and there’s likely no stopping them in the decade ahead. Here are some of the biggest threats to the healthcare industry that doctors and their employers will likely face over the next 10 years.

Physician burnout

Rates of physician burnout have declined, but it remains a problem nonetheless. And it’s a problem that could be exacerbated in the decade ahead by the physician shortage. With fewer doctors, senior physicians are being encouraged or incentivized to work more hours or delay retirement. This spells trouble for a demographic that’s already overworked. It’s simple: No doctors, no healthcare. Physician employers must continue to find ways to help their doctors thrive in the decade ahead.

Cyber security

Value-based healthcare will continue to require more patient data as it expands. This means medical practice will include more wifi-enabled devices and require additional patient data entry. Speeding the proliferation of technology in healthcare will be the advent of 5G technology, which will connect more devices via LTE technology. More data and more devices translate to more targets for cyber criminals. It will fall to physicians and the organizations that employ them to deploy the solutions to secure all of that information.

IT integration

IT integration represents another data problem. Most hospitals and other institutions that employ physicians have been around a while. Stroll their hallways, and you’ll see a patchwork of infrastructure and technology. Making the infrastructure and the technology work synergistically represents a real challenge. In many cases, hospitals and practices have devices and computers that can’t freely communicate or exchange data. Seamless integration is a must if the healthcare system is to continue to flourish.

The data gap

Wearables. Everybody’s talking about them. Many have one. Chances are, you might own one yourself. But just how useful are all of the data it collects to healthcare professionals? Think about it. Right now, do you have any easy way to input patient data from their wearable devices into your EHRs? Furthermore, do you even trust it or find it useful? Right now, there’s a major divide between consumer health data, and healthcare industry data. They are not one in the same. Solving this problem will require improved cooperation between device makers and the healthcare industry. The Freestyle Libre is perhaps an indicator of what this looks like when it’s done well.

Economic volatility

Though healthcare is traditionally secure, by comparison to other industries, to economic volatility, it isn’t completely insulated. It’s true that regardless of economic conditions, people will still get sick and require care. However, economic downturns tend to shift industries from growth-oriented to survival-oriented outlooks and mindsets. As an industry, healthcare must be solution-oriented if it wants to keep pace with the innovation of other industries. It’s only a matter of time before an Amazon or a Walmart completely disrupts the industry.

Policy changes

As of writing this post, 7 Democratic presidential candidates support some version of a Medicare for All healthcare system. Before we put the period on another sentence, let’s get one thing straight: PhysicianSense and MDLinx are not saying this is a good or a bad thing. However, a shift to a single-payer system would be a seismic one — and one the healthcare industry (and physicians) would have to absorb. It could “blow up a lot of business models,” one physician CEO said earlier this year.

Lagging antibiotic development

Here’s something that’s on the mind of few in the healthcare industry, except perhaps infectious disease experts. The pharmaceutical industry has produced (and is incentivized to produce) few new antibiotics. Once-manageable conditions, such as gonorrhea and pneumonia, have developed resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics. What’s going to happen when the healthcare industry cannot treat once-manageable conditions with the current arsenal of drugs? This could prove catastrophic not just for the industry, but humanity as a whole.

TL;DR

The biggest threats to the healthcare industry over the next decade are:

Physician burnout: The shortage will likely fuel it.

Cyber security: More data means more opportunities for cyber criminals.

IT integration: Hospitals and healthcare organizations have aging infrastructure and devices that can’t communicate.

The data gap: Physicians can’t or won’t incorporate consumer-generated healthcare data into their practices.

Economic volatility: Economic downturns could disrupt the innovation that must happen if healthcare wants to thrive.

Policy changes: A move to a single-payer system would be a major adjustment for the industry as its configured.

Lagging antibiotic development: This is an existential threat to the industry and humanity at large.

 
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