Advances in technology and the rise of consumerism were two prominent factors that affected healthcare in 2019.
Healthcare underwent significant changes in 2019, according to leaders from various segments of the industry, some which will continue to have ramifications for years to come.
Leaders pointed to the rise of consumerism, particularly the growing expectations from patients about various aspects of the healthcare experience, as a major factor that drove change this year.
The increasing interest in technological services, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), also made a sizable impact on healthcare as organizations pursue digital transformations.
Below are takeaways from several executives on the major healthcare trends of 2019.
Jaewon Ryu, MD, JD, CEO of Geisinger Health, told HealthLeaders that while there wasn't a specific moment that defined the year in healthcare, the primary theme was introducing "easier health solutions to the market."
"Solutions that make health easier is what we’ve been focused on as well. For example, recently, we announced our Geisinger Primary Care Scholars Program, offering full tuition support for 40 students per class at our medical school who are pursuing primary care," Ryu said. "That will make it easier for those students to choose careers in primary care, which will lead to more primary care doctors in our communities, which will make it easier to access preventive, comprehensive clinical care – all of which will make health easier. It goes hand-in-hand with the other programs we’ve developed bringing care to the people and the communities."
Ryu also said that health systems have increasingly and effectively collaborated with their community partners to address the social determinants of health.
"Geisinger continues to invest and expand in addressing the factors we know have a tremendous impact on health but have traditionally been left out of the equation – food, transportation, housing," Ryu said. "When we manage the full health of a population by having both the care and the coverage of that care, combined with our deep roots in the communities we serve, we are in a position to get as upstream as possible and demonstrate the value of these programs."
Tom Wicka, CEO of NovuHealth, said health plans displayed a "significant commitment" to member satisfaction and retention in 2019. This was complemented by the uptick in the Medicare Advantage space, Wicka said, as well as growth in the use of digital tools to communicate with members.
"We saw a significant increase in participation in Medicare Advantage and SMS programs, email programs and interactive voice response, which we consider those three digital versus traditional paper-based services," Wicka said. "The participation rates and the increase in emphasis by the plans and members was pretty profound in 2019."
Doug Ghertner, CEO of IVX Health, said the increased emphasis on consumerization in healthcare over the last two years is likely to continue into 2020. He said that the patient experience needs to "be fundamentally better and different than it's been in the past."
"I think everybody's got their eyeballs on the specialty pharmaceutical space, in particular, just because it hasn't been genericized like the legend drug market. That's what we're seeing the interest," Ghertner said.
Like other healthcare executives, he has also been keeping an eye on the potential entrance of technology giants into the industry, adding that he supports this as the dynamic "makes everyone better and forces us to think differently."
He also said there are opportunities to work collaboratively with Silicon Valley-based technology companies in order to improve access and affordability of care options.
Emad Rizk, MD, CEO of Cotiviti, also greeted the entrance of tech giants to healthcare, saying that the organizations bring size and sophistication to data operations that could benefit patients. However, he added that these large technology companies must be held accountable for protecting patient data privacy.
Reflecting on the past decade, Rizk said that technology and innovation accelerated greatly in healthcare, pointing to the popularity of AI, telemedicine, genomics and new medical devices.
Rizk specifically added that there has been a greater adoption of digitization, data collection, and machine learning in the past few years while medicine has been significantly impacted by the introduction of new medications and biosimilars.
"If we're going to get the return on investment on all of the technologies that we're discovering, that can only come through comprehensive longitudinal data that's interoperable. [We must] continue to build its robustness and comprehensiveness. as time goes by."
Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.