Sunday, April 25, 2010

Disruptive Changes Are Coming to the Delivery of Medical Care

The following was an invited posst at Harvard Business Review last Friday.

We have grown accustomed to scientific research producing major medical advances such as those I wrote about in The Future of Medicine — Megatrends in Healthcare. But there are now some very disruptive changes coming in how medical care will be delivered by your doctor or hospital.

Some examples:

Team-based care for chronic illness. The combination of an aging population and adverse behaviors such as obesity and smoking will create epidemics of diabetes, heart failure, and other diseases that last a lifetime and are difficult to treat. They require team-based, multi-disciplinary care. Team-based care is not the norm today, and the lack of it substantially increases the costs and diminishes the quality of care. The primary care physician must become the team coordinator, be more an orchestrator and less an intervener.

Echelons of care for acute illness. Advances in the care of as heart attacks and strokes also demand a different model of care. The role model is trauma — people with minor injuries are sent to a local ER, more severely injured to a regional trauma center, and the most severe to a Level 1 dedicated trauma center. This approach is accepted for trauma but not yet for heart attacks and stroke. Today the standard of care for a heart attack is immediate angioplasty with stent placement to stop the heart attack in progress and reduce heart muscle damage. The patient brought to a small community hospital should be referred on to a larger center equipped with trained interventional cardiologists, an expert staff, and the needed equipment — all available 24/7. This will result in higher-quality care but will disrupt the economics of many doctors and hospitals.

More high-tech hospitals. More serious illnesses means there will be a need for more hospitals, more beds (especially ICU beds), and more operating rooms with highly sophisticated technologies. This marks a departure from recent decades, when the mantra has been "too many hospitals and too many beds." Since smaller hospitals will have difficulty accessing the credit markets to finance expensive technology and facilities, we can expect to see a wave of hospital mergers and fewer stand-alone hospitals.

Patient-centric medicine. There is an emergence of consumerism in health care. ("The patient will no longer be patient.") So, our current provider-oriented culture will have to change to a patient-oriented culture. Patients will insist on prompt service, improved safety and quality, greater respect, much more convenience, and a closure of the current information gap between doctor and patient. Absent satisfaction, patients will go elsewhere. These are very disruptive changes indeed from the present provider-centric approach to care delivery.

Delegation of care. Shortages of physicians will mean more reliance on others to deliver care — e.g., nurse practioneers and physician's assistants for primary care, social workers and psychologists for mental health care, and optometrists for vision care. Physicians will need to change their attitudes toward these providers by involving them and embracing their value.

A new value proposition for technology. We think of new technologies as being of value if they improve diagnosis, treatment, or prevention while providing a decent return on investment. (See my earlier post on this topic.) But in the future, we will also expect a new technology to help health care professionals compensate for shortages of certain kinds of care providers, enhance their responsiveness to more demanding patients, control rather than exacerbate costs, and enhance safety and quality — very different from today's value proposition.

Employee physicians. Professionals' expectations are changing as much as those of patients. While most physicians in the U.S. today are in private practice, a growing number — especially younger ones — want to be employed. They want to spend less time on administrative tasks and want more time for family activities. Women are now 50% of graduates from medical school; many will want time off for child-rearing, further exacerbating the shortage of doctors..

E-health. The internet and digital medical information will have a major disruptive effect on the practice of medicine. Many physicians eschew these technologies today — often because insurers don't reimburse them for the time involved. But they will be expected by their patients to use e-mails, telemedicine and telediagnosis, ePrescriptions, and an electronic medical record. If doctors want to keep their patients, they'll have to change.

These are some of the major changes I see coming down the pike. Do you agree that they will transform the delivery of care? Are there others you would add to the list?

What are the challenges that health care organizations and professionals must overcome to make the transition to this new age? Will there be strong resistance or will change come about smoothly?

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Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).