There’s no place like HIMSS – no other place where the business of healthcare seems so… business-y.
With elaborate displays and complimentary happy hours, a person can’t take two steps without being greeted by a vendor. Innovation – change – has a price, and it’s ever present in Chicago this morning. With so many companies vying for attention with free coffee and bagels, it can be difficult for a journalist to sort through the marketing hoopla to get at the real story.
The Evolution of an Industry
I flew in from Cleveland on Sunday. I don’t fly unencumbered often (i.e., without worrying about shuffling my children through security and hoping they don’t offend anyone in the plane). I had a lot more time to notice things.
Things like the security guard, who, tablet in hand, randomizes the security screening process. And, all those gray bins… some manufacturer must have made a fortune on those. (I wonder who cleans them?) There are signs in multiple languages explaining the security process to passengers, and even whimsically drawn illustrations to help children feel at ease as they put their teddy bears through the x-ray scanner.
My point is that, after the events of 9/11, the airline industry is forever changed. Airlines laid-off employees, some filed Chapter 11, others merged. Jobs were created. Security staffers were hired, airports renovated, restaurants moved behind security checkpoints. The experience of air travel, for the crew and passengers, has changed dramatically.
Healthcare is at a similar crossroads
According to Dr. Kaveh Safavi of Accenture, what America needs isn’t a more efficient healthcare system – it’s a more productive system. That is, an increased focus on healthcare as a product. As an experience. In a lecture yesterday, Safavi said (I’m paraphrasing here) that both patients and physicians believe the value of healthcare isn’t in cost or outcomes. Patients want to feel well. They don’t ask “how much will this cost me?” so much as “will I get my money’s worth?.”
Safavi went on to discuss telehealth, which was originally about increasing access to healthcare for people in the most remote areas. But, increasingly, healthcare consumers (i.e., the already served) are finding that virtual care can actually meet their needs better than traditional, in-person care.
Virtual healthcare allows for augmentation, for a super-imposing of data and education in a patient’s experience, that might not be possible in a traditional office visit. Patients love this: they get the information they want, when they want it, and feel as though they are players in their own care.
Virtual health allows for group visits (i.e., one physician and many patients), allowing patients to learn from each other and saving physicians the time it would take to meet all those patients individually.
Virtual health allows for collaborative visits (i.e., one patient, with many physicians), which Safavi says are happening more and more, especially in oncology. This saves the patient the hassle of multiple appointments, and allows for physicians to discuss the case together, in real-time.
Virtual health uses technology to reduce healthcare costs and augment reality. If implemented well, it could mean better, more personalized care. It could improve patient engagement levels, and lead to sustained behavior change. It could reduce healthcare costs, after significant initial investment.
What we know for sure is that healthcare is in the midst of unprecedented change internationally. The players are changing. Innovators will break out with start-ups, which will likely be acquired to maximize resources and achieve scale. Caregivers are hesitant, scared even, of what virtual visits and retail clinics might mean for their career trajectories.
But someday, as virtual health becomes a reality and people realize its value, it will become the new normal.
The next time you are herded through a security line like a sheep, bumping against those around you in an effort to catch your plane on time, take a moment to remember that air travel wasn’t always like this. That sometimes industries change in dramatic ways, and it all generally shakes out well in the end.
About the HIMSS Annual Conference
HIMSS is a global, non-profit organization focused on issues related to health IT. As of this morning, 42,314 attendees had registered at the 2015 annual conference, far surpassing last-year’s record attendance of 35,509.
Over the next several days, I’ll be writing from the HIMSS conference in Chicago, bringing you insight into current health IT issues and trends.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.