While the healthcare system in the United States, and abroad, is a complex ecosystem with an array of interdependencies that are influencing the way the market is evolving, four major trends are having a strong impact circa 2018.
- Shifts towards “Value-based Care”. Particularly in the U.S., the healthcare system is faced with significant rising costs due to a very large portion of its population moving into retirement age. In response, the U.S. government, the largest payer in the healthcare ecosystem, is taking steps to shift reimbursements towards “value-based payments.” A central tenet of this approach is to encourage a shift in industry focus from “paying for procedures” to “paying for outcomes”. While the business impact of this trend is to transfer increasing amounts of financial risk from payers to providers and patients, the theory is that it will also result in more targeted and effective treatment and care plans.
- The need to protect profitability. As the movement towards value-based care shifts more financial risks to providers, many are taking steps such as scaling up through M&A, opening practices in desirable geographies and investing in specialties to protect their profitability. For example, hospital systems are opening urgent care facilities in suburban and rural areas, drug companies are merging and/or buying retail pharmacies, and healthcare payers are partnering with health systems to help promote wellness programs.
- Changes in how healthcare is being consumed. Building on the previous point, as the costs of healthcare rise, patients’ expectations are changing accordingly. Increasingly, patents are taking advantage of urgent care facilities in lieu of emergency room visits. Consumers are also using clinics for routine doctor visits and out-patient procedures and lab work. Likewise, with rising costs, patients are expecting a greater degree of inclusion, and control, over treatments and care plans. As this occurs it puts greater pressure on healthcare providers to meet patients on their terms.
- Infrastructure readiness to comply with electronic health records (EHR) regulations. Another key tenet of healthcare reform is the shift to EHR, and the use of those records in healthcare decisions. This increase in digital information and rising use of video and mobile tools is driving an unprecedented need for network capacity, speed, security and scalability. Likewise, the need to access and share patient records between hospitals, clinicians and patients is driving ecosystem interoperability and data security needs to new heights.
Against the backdrop of these trends, the question becomes, “how can ICT help?” As with many other vertical markets, ICT networking and end-point technologies has the ability to play a profound impact on how stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem respond to the trends cited above, as well as other sub-trends that are encompassed within. While not an exhaustive list, four key areas where tech is making a proverbial difference can be summarized as follows:
- Mobility. The use of mobile devices has become nearly omnipresent in modern healthcare environments. Tablets are not only being used by nurses and physicians to access patient EHRs, but also as entertainment devices to enhance in-patient experiences. In addition, devices are being used by physicians and clinicians for real-time access to research and other information relevant to treatment and care decisions. As with device proliferation in general, this is driving an increase in networking and security requirements as well as creating opportunities to leverage IoT technologies.
- Admittedly, “networking” is a broad term, and the solutions being deployed in the healthcare industry have the ability to make comprehensive use of it. Indeed, robust networks solutions have a role to play in addressing each of the four trends outlined above. Mobile wireless and WiFi are fundamental to enabling the device proliferation described above. Cloud and virtualized networks are needed for applications such as telemedicine, collaboration between locations at large hospital systems, the movement of EHRs throughout a complex ecosystem of users, remote collaboration by pharmaceutical manufacturers on R&D and clinical trial activities, and much more.
- A fundamental enabler of the aforementioned networking use cases, which, can help revolutionize the way healthcare is consumed, will be IoT sensors embedded in a variety of devices to monitor patient vitals, ensure adherence to treatment plans, and encourage healthier living habits that can help to mitigate or avoid the need for medical care. Similarly sensors for telemetry, custody chain and other monitoring functions have a fundamental role to play in the secure transport of drugs and soft tissue needed for transplants, etc. In addition, AR/VR technology is being seen as a potential “game changer” in the way that a variety of psychiatric conditions are treated, as well as in enabling remote learning.
- Underpinning the previous three points is the need for comprehensive cybersecurity for threat mitigation and avoidance. Government mandates related to HIPAA (U.S.) and data protection directives (EU) relate to EHRs is driving the need for comprehensive security solutions in the healthcare sector. From protecting mobile devices that transmit patient data inside walled gardens to the need to secure data transmissions related to remote clinical trials, and many more use cases in between, numerous sources – from the U.S. government to vendors such as Cisco – predict that the healthcare sector will be one of the largest, and fastest growing markets for cybersecurity investment over the next decade.