Health care is an ever-changing industry, but there are a few themes emerging for the coming year that could prove to have a great impact in the future.
North Texas is experiencing a population explosion. Organic growth coupled with new move-ins is making this area one of the highest-growth geographical areas nationally. It is projected that the population of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan statistical area will reach more than 8 million in 10 years.
This population growth is being fueled by an expanding local economy. Economic and job growth have pushed North Texas to the sixth-largest GDP nationally, with more than 400,000 jobs created since 2009.
For health care, growth signals a need for providers to accommodate an expanded population into our current infrastructure. Demand for health care services will increase, which will fuel growth in our sector.
The biggest theme in health care is the rise of consumer choice. Historically, consumers have received nearly all of their health care options through their employers, meaning their employers provided access to a specific number of health insurance plans. With the emergence of public and private health care exchanges, consumers now have access to multiple choices when it comes to health care products.
With choice comes voice. Many of the health care benefit choices in the insurance market today are called high-deductible health plans, which cause consumers to pay more out of pocket over the course of a year. Because they are bearing more of the costs, consumers are expecting – and demanding – more consumer-like experiences in health care such as greater convenience, easier access, lower costs for services and greater efficiencies.
Just as is true in many other industries, we believe consumers will continue to make a push toward total value delivery, which means they won’t only want high-quality outcomes from their health care purchase (meaning we make you better), but also they want it more cost-effectively. Consumers are looking for value, and we see a continued emergence of opportunities for providers to deliver that value.
We’ve all seen the growth in retail clinics, such as Target’s neighborhood clinics, and we think there will be a continued interest by consumers in similar solutions, which can provide medical services in a fast and convenient setting. New concierge-type services are emerging in Dallas-Fort Worth where, for example, a nurse will come to your home to evaluate your child. That’s a huge shift in health care that we believe is coming. It may not be fully realized in 2016, but there is a noticeable shift in this direction.
Big changes with little devices
How often do you see someone walking around with a wearable activity tracker? You have likely seen more and more people with one of these devices.
Digital devices are playing a huge role in the changing health care environment. From apps and smartphones to activity trackers, consumers are turning more and more to devices as a means to track and improve their health – and that just might make a high impact in the health care arena.
We believe the rise in personalized activity trackers – from the Fitbit to the Apple Watch – will translate into an acceleration of personal health care accountability. For employers, this increase doesn’t mean that all of your employees might start running marathons, but trends toward this new personalized accountability very well might translate into lower health care costs and healthier employees – and a healthy employee is a more productive employee.
In fact, there’s a tipping point where we see more employers encouraging and rewarding these health behaviors. Texas Health Resources has a well-established program for our employees called Be Healthy. The program, which has high participation rates, rewards employees for making healthy choices in a number of venues from walking clubs to Fitbit trackers and healthy cafeteria meals. We believe more and more employers will incorporate these types of programs and they will be continually reinforced by digital technology.
Personal health activation is here, and it’s being enabled by technology.
Tech isn’t just for techies
Providers are using technology and informatics to transform patient care. They are driving health decision-making using analytics. With greater ability to predict outcomes, detect problems earlier and develop customized solutions, providers will take another leap forward in delivering value to their customers.
Technology is enabling enhanced methods of care delivery for health care providers that reduce the need for hospital stays (e.g., minimally invasive surgery) and even reduce the need for in-person visits (e.g., virtual appointments). Providers are using technology to deliver services that put the needs, convenience and user experience of the patient first.
More than 40 percent of health care executives say their volume of data has increased by more than 50 percent in the past year. Among these executives, 63 percent believe big data can help track and manage population health more effectively, and 60 percent believe it will enhance the ability to deliver preventive care.
This big data growth could mean lower health care costs for employers because better data can lead to better patient experience and improved outcomes by providing superior quality in a customer-focused health care environment. Capturing and analyzing large swaths of data can help providers understand and address variability to control costs. By understanding collected data, we can understand which patients are most in need of medical attention and how to approach that challenge/opportunity.
Because of the rise of big data in health care, precision medicine might have a big impact in 2016. Precision medicine speaks to the ability to customize treatment for individuals, even using new treatments that physicians believe would greatly affect the patient. The advantage of precision medicine is better outcomes at lower cost. It remains to be seen when it will really catch on, but we think it will.
Aaron Bujnowski is senior vice president of strategy and planning for Texas Health Resources. He joined the health system in 2010. He was formerly a member of the health care practice at the Boston Consulting Group.