Three Health Care Trends That Don’t Hinge on Obamacare’s Fate

“Immutable” changes are on the way, regardless of government policies

In May, House Republicans voted to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Subsequently, Republicans in the Senate began working on their own legislation to do the same. While the fate of the Senate bill is uncertain, three “immutable” trends in the U.S. health care system won’t change, according to a report from the Harvard Business Review.

The first trend is demographic. In 1960, the median age of men and women in the U.S. was 29.5 years; it is now 37.9 years, and in the next 12 years, it will exceed 40 years, the article says. Per capita annual health care costs are approximately $4,500 for people 19 to 44 years of age. This amount doubles for those ages 45 to 64, and doubles again for those over 65. Thus, as the population ages, health care services will expand, as will the pressure to find efficient ways to deliver those services, according to the report.

Second, technology has become a “pervasive” element across the health care system, with a major impact on diagnosis, treatment, and communications, the article says. In 2004, 20% of practicing physicians used electronic health records (EHRs) in the U.S. Today, 90% of physicians regularly employ EHRs. Beyond EHRs, digital health tools—apps, wearable devices, and other hardware and software that measure and monitor health—are becoming common in consumers’ lives. More than 3,000 apps are now available to help manage diabetes alone. Such technology has become rooted firmly in U.S. health care and, as elsewhere, consumers will choose many of the winners, according to the article.

Third, regardless of the changes made to the PPACA, discoveries in the life sciences that enhance the quality and extend the length of life will continue to emerge from research laboratories, the report says. These advances are being driven by two major trends: the availability of personal health data, and the plummeting cost of integrating massive health data-sets in the cloud. These two foundations will help promote the emergence of personalized medicine.

“Taken together, these three trends will drive dramatic changes in health care, regardless of government policies,” the article predicts.

Source: Harvard Business Review; May 25, 2017.