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The Future of Healthcare

The Future of Healthcare

It’s 2025. Do you know what your profession looks like?

Try to imagine how the practice of medicine will transform in the next 10 to 20 years — not an easy exercise considering recent healthcare reform efforts and scientific discoveries make even a six-month view into the crystal ball a little cloudy.

Will there be high-tech full body scans, an iPad in the hand of every practitioner, and hologram versions of yourself being beamed into the homes of your patients?

Not likely, but rising costs and increasing demands on the healthcare system will surely force a transformation in the role of today’s physician. More than just universal EHR adoption or smartphone use, the practice of the future is likely to reinvent the care-delivery model, rethink reimbursement, and retool technology.

Here, some of healthcare’s innovative thinkers and practitioners aim to reimagine the doctor of the future, as signaled by some of the innovations taking root today.

A new way to deliver care

The traditional, one-size-fits-all, office visit model of medicine has reigned for decades. Physicians are locked into a system that requires they see patients in their office every 15 minutes, and alternatives like e-mail consultations have been slow to catch on.

Healthcare has been stuck here because of the payment structure, says David Moen, a physician and medical director of care model innovation at Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services. Moen’s job is to rethink the traditional model and find ways to make the alternatives work. The current financial structure limits this innovation, he says, and fails to take into account patient engagement and drive efficiencies.

But at Fairview, they are initiating care reform, Moen says, which will in turn inform payment reform. Moen says the future of care includes different delivery models (think phone, Internet, and group visits), a greater focus on patients’ behavior, and a far more team-oriented approach.

“This is probably the most opportune time in decades for physicians to provide leadership to the change taking place,” he says.

Online visits

Moen’s colleague, Eric Christianson, an emergency department physician at Fairview, has been trying his hand at what some believe will become a new tier for healthcare delivery: online visits.

As part of a pilot program with BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota, Christianson has started seeing some patients via the Internet, using a Web cam and a telephone. Already, after only about 40 visits, Christianson says he can see how this method would make him more efficient, and give him some flexibility in his schedule.

“It seems to me to be a very common sense, logical step,” he says. “The technology is out there. There are still things that need to be worked on, but as it’s being developed and being refined, it’s clear to me that it could be utilized for betterment of patient and physician experience.”

Not only will the online care model extend healthcare access to people in rural or underserved areas, but it can offer the physician a unique way to control her schedule. Imagine spending half of the day in the office seeing patients, then returning to work — perhaps from the comfort of your home — in the evening after your child’s softball game or dinner with the family. Any down time between patients, such as a last-minute cancellation, can be filled with another appointment.

A patient can go online to find out which physicians are available for an online visit, says Roy Schoenberg, CEO of American Well, which provides the online system.

The physician can review records, communicate, and write a prescription — and actually get paid (albeit less than for an office visit).

Minnesota is one of only a few areas using the online care model, but Schoenberg envisions the system evolving to allow for other disciplines to participate and for physicians to consult with each other.

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