Trend-spotting in health care

We’re still a few weeks away from 2012, but apparently it’s not too soon to take a look at some of the trends shaping what happens in health care next year.

Pricewaterhouse Cooper LLC issued a report last week on the top 12 trends to watch in 2012. Their summary of the findings:

In 2012, health industry organizations will connect in new ways with each other and their consumers as they wade through economic, regulatory, and political uncertainty. Some are stepping forward in cooperation; others are rewriting the rules of competition.

Among the key issues, we’ll see value move from theory to reality, investments ramp up in informatics, the effects of drug shortages, insurers gear up to compete in a new insurance exchange marketplace, pharma companies slim down and healthcare increasing its social media presence.

That’s the view from 90,000 feet. But what does it all mean for the ordinary person? Here’s how some of these trends might show up at the level of the patient/consumer experience:

– Expect to see information technology, i.e. computers, become much more widespread, from the hospital room to the exam room.

– Out-of-pocket costs for health care will continue to rise, forcing many people to think harder about whether to seek care at the doctor’s office or the emergency room. In a survey by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, nearly half of the respondents said they had decided to skip a doctor visit or prescription drug in the past year because of the cost, and one in 10 had done so at least five times.

– Value will be important. Health organizations are under growing pressure to deliver quality, affordable care that keeps their patients satisfied; those that fall short could wind up being financially penalized. Patients can expect to see more surveys asking them for their opinion.The real test, of course, will be whether patient preferences lead to meaningful changes in how care is provided.

– Look for care delivery systems to become more integrated. There are many incentives to do so: efficiency, savings and better coordination of care. According to Pricewaterhouse Cooper, health insurers invested $2 billion last year to acquire or align with physician groups, clinics and hospitals. For patients, there could be more confusion in the short run as the players reposition themselves on the chessboard. In the long run, though, it’s believed that care will be better when it’s less fragmented. Whether this actually will become the case remains debatable; the concept of “accountable care organizations,” contained within the 2010 health care reform bill, has plenty of critics.

– A retail spin is coming to the health insurance market. States are expected to start certifying health plans in October 2012 for participation in health insurance exchanges, allowing consumers to shop for their own health care coverage. This could be a real benefit for people who aren’t otherwise able to obtain affordable health insurance. But the option could be underutilized if consumers don’t have enough information or education to compare plans and make good decisions.

– Is your hospital or clinic on Facebook? If not, they risk getting left behind. The social media are emerging as an important way of reaching out to patients and the community. One-third of the respondents in the Pricewaterhouse Cooper survey – and half of the respondents under age 35 – said they had used social media channels to connect with health care organizations or with other people with shared health interests.

Euro RSCG, a global marketing and communications agency (and the same company that forecast the concepts we now know as corporate social responsibility and helicopter parenting), last week issued its own trend outlook.

The top five trends identified: a rising use of medical tourism, telemedicine and personalized medicine; an increasing worldwide incidence of diabetes; and a rise in cyberchondria, or the tendency of people to Google their symptoms and misdiagnose themselves. According to Euro RSCG, all five of these trends signal a cultural shift in the attitudes, beliefs and values that shape how we think and talk about health care.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons