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FACTORS THAT AFFECT US HEALTH CARE IN THE FUTURE 9
The factors that may affect US health care in the future
Long Island University
Dr. Simone Martin
The global health care industry has been growing fast in recent years, and the trend seems to go on perpetually. In the United States, expenditure on health care is in excess of 15% of the national gross domestic product (GDP). This, according to Deloitte, is the highest amount of expenditure on health care the world over. Further, the United States has a large population of people under insurance where only 15% do not have insurance. To be sure, an American either has private insurance or is covered by government-funded programs like the one fronted by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is quite necessary for a country where a single major medical bill is enough to send one into personal bankruptcy.
Interestingly, most of the American population is entering the geriatric phase of life fueled by the aging baby boomers. Further, Ikegami (2015) wrote that the US health care system is in the process of shifting from the situation where only the volume of patients treated mattered. This system relied on fees for service and which gave healthcare providers the revenue incentive to reach more patients. To be sure, the healthcare sector is shifting a value-based system where the value delivered to the patient will take center stage (Burwell, 2015).
Therefore, it is apparent that the healthcare sector will experience fundamental changes in terms of quality of service, a volume of people accessing healthcare services and the general healthcare situation across all the 50 states. In this light, this paper intends to highlight factors that will affect healthcare in the future and in what direction will these factors move the sector in general.
Demographic and social factors
The US might be among the developed economy countries that are aging the slowest but the population is still graying. In 2010, Pew Research Center said that 13% of Americans were 65 years of age or older. At the same time, the firm projected that this cohort would grow up to take up 18% of the American population by 2030 (Cohn & Taylor, 2014, April 10). Once people get older, their productivity drops significantly and they begin to experience a lot more medical complications than before.
To be sure, the aging population will add a huge strain to the healthcare sector in terms of geriatric care as well as complications tied to old age. Once a nation has a huge population of old people, there will be a high demand of healthcare services which, basically, imply that healthcare providers will be on high demand (Keehan, Stone, Poisal, Cuckler, Sisko, Smith… & Lizonitz, 2017). Interestingly, the increased demand will also lead to a higher demand for labor force in the sector to carry out duties like geriatric care, to provide physical therapy and other tasks like providing aid for old people in homes. Essentially, this is to say that employment opportunities will expand in the healthcare sector.
Further, this also implies that most of the healthcare institutions will convert a lot of skilled labor to take care of aging Americans. Due to the high demand, institutions will be forced to pay workers like geriatric nurses higher pay to retain them. This way, more skilled labor will be attracted to the sector and hence denying other healthcare sectors services they too dearly need. Once such imbalances in labor allocation begin to take root, the unattended section of the population will increasingly record poor health standards (Keehan et al, 2017).
The cost of healthcare
By 2022, Deloitte estimates that the global expenditure of healthcare will clock $10.059 trillion. Interestingly, a huge chunk of this expenditure will come from the United States. The cost healthcare boils down to demographic changes where the country will be dealing with more elderly people than ever before. Further, the United States instituted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare which seeks to cover the healthcare needs of the poor, the disabled and the elderly.
To be sure, the government at all levels subsidizes the marketplace premiums for the above-mentioned groups of people under the ACA program. Interestingly, certain costs like that of services within the sector are increasingly going up. Further, the cost of pharmaceutical drugs is also on the rise given the high cost of production. In essence, this is evidence that the government will continue to spend more money on healthcare in the future.
Writing in the Journal of Health Economics, Frean, Gruber & Sommers (2017) said increased expenditure on welfare programs like ACA will deny other pertinent healthcare areas like Research and Development. The net effect of this is that there will be few funds to pursue cures for dangerous diseases like cancer and diabetes which are among the highest causes of deaths among Americans. Thus, the healthcare sector will increasingly grow incapable of controlling the fatalities arising from the diseases.
Innovations in medical technology as well as digital technology
The healthcare sector is a huge beneficiary of technological advancement. Since the invention of the stethoscope, the medical fraternity has had a plethora of technological solutions that have made the practice easier and more accurate. Notably, there are technological advancements that are already revolutionizing the way physicians deliver care to patients. For instance, Ben-Menachem & Krauss (2014) observed that brain implants have gone a long way in helping to control epilepsy. Further, there are other innovations (like the possibility of remote monitoring of patient vitals by nurses) that are flipping the practice of healthcare on its head.
Interestingly, there are emerging technologies (otherwise called technologies of the future) that promise to further the ongoing revolution in the healthcare sector. To be sure, innovations in digital technology are finding vital use cases in the healthcare sector. For instance, blockchain technology promises to disrupt the healthcare sector in that patient data handling will be transparent and decentralized. Further, artificial intelligence will be the new coworker in health facilities of the future while virtual reality will revolutionize how practitioners approach the medical practice (Mettler, 2016, September), (Ma, Jain & Anderson, 2014) and (Jiang, Jiang, Zhi, Dong, Li, Ma … & Wang, 2017).
Cumulatively, the new technologies will improve the quality of care that patients will receive from medical facilities. Further, VR will help in better performance during surgeries and hence increase the chances of accurate work and survival of patients. With the help of technology, many complex processes of today will be simpler and hence less time will spent delivering care. Ultimately, there is a high likelihood that healthcare will cost lower and that it will be more affordable.
Data protection and cybercrime
It is overly clear that much of the healthcare operations in the future will be heavily integrated into the internet ecosystem. Notably, the use of AI, VR and blockchain systems require an internet connection. Further, as healthcare increasingly relies on technology to deliver quality care, there is an increasing need for patient data in order for a better understanding of patients’ medical needs. As such, the healthcare providers will increasingly gravitate towards big data and how they can leverage it stay ahead of the competition in terms of quality.
With big data and deep integration into the internet ecosystem come new challenges; data privacy and cybercrime. According to Patil & Seshadri (2014, June), the rise of big data has turned individual data like patient data into the new currency. Notably, today’s technology like wearable health monitoring devices relies on the data to work better. Therefore, data has become valuable and anyone would want to get their hands on it. Unfortunately, the precious nature of data today and in future will continue to attract bad actors who would want to use it inappropriately.
Therefore, healthcare providers face a huge task of ensuring that the patient data in their possession is safe from reach by cybercriminals. Further, the institutions must ensure that they respect the privacy of the data that they may have in possession. This includes using the data in a way that does not agree with the kind of contract that exists between the institutions and the owners of the data. Ultimately, the availability of the data and the technologies to transform the data into meaningful information will improve the quality of healthcare and the satisfaction of the patients. However, it is possible that many healthcare providers might find themselves battling litigations if they fail to handle the data in their possession with utmost caution.
New models of healthcare delivery
As per Burwell (2015, the global healthcare sector is moving away from the transactional model of health care toward a model that is centered upon the wellness of the patients. This wellness model ensures that patients get quality care which ensures that they stay out of hospitals for longer. On the contrary, the fee-for-service model that is prevalent today requires that patients pay for each and every service they receive from healthcare providers. The thinking behind this model is that providers get to earn much more revenue that enables them to refine their services and hence they get in a position where they offer very high-quality services. However, the contention is that such a model is punitive to the patients, especially those who are poor.
To be sure, the passing of the Affordable Care Act in the US is a piece of solid evidence that the healthcare sector will not be the same ten years to come as it is today. The legislation requires all Americans to be able to access medical services regardless of their economic status. Interestingly, healthcare providers will be encouraged to facilitate transformation through various incentives. To deliver such ambitious reforms, there will need to be changed in the way workers within the healthcare sector are hired. Interestingly, Myrick & del Vecchio (2016) wrote that the process of hiring the workforce for the healthcare sector will focus on their behavioral aspect more. Therefore, one should expect the demand for certain jobs to fall even as new jobs emerge to cater to the evolved needs.
The state of any country’s economy plays a huge role in how other sectors operate. Notably, the economy is central to the ability of people to afford basic needs including the ability to access medical services. For instance, poor economic conditions like unemployment due to a recession leads to a lack of income. This way, the unemployed will have to rely on the state to cater to their basic needs through welfare programs.
Like earlier discussed, the US has the ACA program that bails out the less fortunate in the country. In case of a recession, many more people will fall into the category of the less fortunate and the government will need more money to cover the high ACA enrollment. In the end, the government will end up spending a lot more on welfare programs and further neglecting R&D. Ultimately, this might adversely affect the healthcare sector and leaving the people worse off.
Apparently, healthcare is a vital sector in any country and governments are oftentimes justified in spending billions to ensure every citizen can access quality care. Clearly, the US spends more than any other country to achieve this goal. However, it is apparent that the demographics of the country will force the government to dig deeper into its pockets. In particular, the increasing number of aged citizens will strain the ACA program that subsidizes medical premiums. Further, the increased of healthcare will force the government to do less R&D and hence progress in the treatment of some killer diseases might stall. Also, technological innovations are set to deliver affordable and quality care. However, the reliance on technology will continuously face the threat violation of data privacy as well as cybercrime. Ultimately, the certainty of healthcare adopting a new model of service delivery is growing bolder by the day and patients might in future access high-quality care at a cheaper premium.
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