Microsoft Healthcare Industry Director Offers 5 Trends to Watch

I've just returned to Seattle from TETHIC and CDHCC in Washington, D.C. While there, I had an opportunity to facilitate the summit leadership group discussions on Wednesday and participate in panel discussion following a presentation by Doug Bush, VP and CTO for Intel's Digital Healthcare Group. Here are my opening comments on 5 healthcare trends to watch in the years ahead.

1. The end of health insurance as we know it, or perhaps the return of health insurance as we used to know it. When I entered the workforce in the 70's, having health insurance meant coverage for hospitalization, and even that came with a fairly high deductible. There was no coverage for outpatient doctor visits, lab work, x-rays or medication. Somehow during the ensuing years, employer paid health insurance became much more comprehensive covering not only hospitalization, but just about everything else as well. That trend is now reversing itself as the economic pressures of competing in a global economy force employers to place more of the cost of care on their employees. The newest twist is "consumer directed healthcare" and healthcare savings accounts. This will generate a profound ripple effect in the healthcare ecosystem.

2. Information everywhere; ubiquitous wi-fi and wi-max and a myriad of devices that take advantage of the bandwidth will transform the availability to access information at the point of care and anywhere else it is needed. Consumers will benefit from advanced home monitoring systems, tele-consultations, personalized care and individualized treatments.

3. Commoditization of healthcare services; as consumers are forced to pay more out of pocket for the healthcare services they receive and information becomes more ubiquitous, retail markets will emerge. Medical service providers will compete begin to compete more on price, convenience, high-tech and high-touch. Just take note of the growing retail movement toward RediClinic and MinuteClinic on the low end, and the rise of "concierge medicine" on the high end. 

4. Dumbing-down the profession; aging baby boomers are beginning to impact the care system at the very time that labor shortages of providers and other healthcare workers are becoming more acute. Price pressures on the industry will demand lower-paid workers causing more reliance on mid-level and "low-level" providers of service.

5. A flattening of the world of healthcare; information technology will enable globalization of the healthcare economy. If medical services can be provided remotely, they will. The phenomenon of "medical tourism" will grow as people facing higher deductible coverage or no coverage at all seek medical procedures at a lower cost.

What do you think? Let us know.

Bill Crounse, MD, Healthcare Industry Director, Microsoft Healthcare and Life Sciences