Not since the debate and implementation of the Affordable Care Act has the effectiveness of our health care system come under the microscope like it has this past year. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the significant issue of access to care that has been present for far too long. It’s also driven innovation at lightning pace.
Despite LA County and the rest of California slipping into another cycle of mandates, it’s time to start thinking about future opportunities and challenges in health care.
Our battle with COVID-19 boosted the use of and interest in telemedicine. Before the pandemic, fewer than a third of doctors in the U.S. were utilizing teleheath. Today, more than 70 percent of all primary care physicians are on board and advocate for the inclusion of telemedicine in the core of our health care delivery system.
Cerrell client Providence Health, who treated the very first COVID-19 patient in the U.S., retooled their chatbot service as a self-triaging tool for COVID-19 symptoms and rapidly deployed remote-patient monitoring.
The pandemic also boosted interest in hospital-at-home health care delivery strategies. Memorial Care, Adventist Health West, and other health care systems are pursuing this alternative-to-hospitalization strategy made possible and cost-effective by advancements in digital and artificial intelligence technology, all game-changers for our health care delivery system. Technology has truly stepped up to help address the COVID-19 pandemic and hopefully health systems will build on this momentum.
Goodbye, Common Cold
COVID-19 will be wrestled into submission, to be sure. But what about all the strains to which it gave (and will give) birth? And what about all its coronavirus cousins and descendants lurking in our planet’s ecosystem and threatening our future?
Rest assured, the scientists who developed and are manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccines believe that a universal vaccine effective at immunizing us against all coronaviruses is less than five years away from production.
As a bonus, this effort will produce a vaccine effective at preventing infection from common cold viruses. As thrilling as that is, also being tested is filtration technology that effectively removes coronaviruses and other deadly invaders from the blood of infected patients. The use of this filter will lower death rates from sepsis, an all-too-common and villainous blood infection that evades current treatment methods.
Cost pressures continue to stress our health care system. Slightly fewer than $1 of every $5 spent in our economy goes to health care, which is almost double that of the next high-spender among industrialized nations. Moreover, because the inflation rate for our spending on health care is more than twice the growth rate for all goods and services in the U.S. economy, we should expect to see health care consuming almost $1 of every $4 by the end of this decade.
Relentless pressure to arrest health care cost growth, though, exists and arises from the fact that more than 60 percent of our nation’s health care tab is paid for by government-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid. So, look out for initiatives by lawmakers and regulators to tame health care spending growth.
AB 1130 and AB 1132, both authored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Wood (D-Santa Rosa), are the newest efforts to worry health care industry stakeholders in California.
As with all forecasting, we must acknowledge any wildcards. For health care, these include breakthroughs and advances brought about by the use of targeted immunotherapies, genomics and gene editing with CRISPR-CAS9, applications of artificial intelligence, and stem cell-related therapies and cures. These technologies will soon sideline many cancers and diseases like sickle-cell.
Imagine having a check-engine light for humans similar to what we have in our cars? This is real science, not science fiction. Indeed, scientists have developed a subdermal implant capable of detecting blood chemistry changes as they occur in our bodies.
To be clear, any of these wildcards can do what the discovery of antibiotics, radiology/imaging, and vaccine development did for health care. Dramatically change its future, that is, and the future of humankind.
James Lott serves as strategic counsel at Cerrell. He is an accomplished senior executive, board member, and thought leader with more than 35 years of success in the health care industry.