Welcome to 2020. It’s a new year. It’s a new decade. And yet healthcare—while in many ways moving forward—seems to be stuck at a crossroads. Compared to other countries, the US continues to have the highest spending and some of the worst outcomes.
With the beginning of the new decade, it’s the perfect time for a fresh start. Healthcare must better address the needs of everyone, especially the patients themselves, while also working to cut the high cost of care. As we move forward in this decade and seek to build a better healthcare system, here are guiding principles innovators should follow.
1. Make the healthcare system more accessible to patients.
One of the biggest hurdles in American healthcare is its complexity, which contributes to Americans’ lack of health literacy. The healthcare system is, admittedly, hard to understand, causing many patients to not engage with it at all. An October 2019 survey from PolicyGenius found that more than 25% of people opt out of using healthcare when faced with health insurance uncertainty.
This confusion covers a number of topics. Almost 45% of people don’t know what healthcare plans are required to cover by law. Many more simply do not understand components of health insurance, such as copays and premiums. That confusion leads many people to seek care only when an emergency arises in order to avoid being surprised by health insurance.
Solutions that address health illiteracy, such as price transparency and public service announcements discussing what is and what is not covered by insurance, would make people more comfortable and confident with the system.
2. Address the physician burnout crisis.
Primary care is essential. Providers are the first line of detection for many serious physical and mental health issues, and keep patients out of costly hospitals by helping treat issues early on. But we are running out of primary care providers, as more and more medical students choose to specialize in different fields. Regrettably, the shortage is only predicted to grow with an expected shortage of up to 122,000 primary care providers (PCPs) by 2032. That shortage is contributing to a related issue: physician burnout.
For every one hour of patient care provided, PCPs need to complete two hours of paperwork. In addition, the shortage of PCPs leaves providers with a disproportionate amount of work, such that there is little to no time to dedicate to personal connection with patients. PCPs are expected to be everything to their patients, taking on work other providers do not do. To get everything done, primary care providers often work 18-hour days, at least. It’s no wonder that many residents who were once excited to go into the field end up changing their minds, because PCPs don’t end up spending their time providing care to patients.
Nurse practitioners could easily reduce PCPs’ workload by also delivering primary care services without sacrificing quality, yet less than half the states allow NPs to provide that level of care. Nurse practitioners are qualified to handle both the type of care primary care providers tackle, and the necessary back-end paperwork. Taking on administrative burden would allow PCPs to finally have the time to forge meaningful connections with their patients. Not only would this improve the care provided, but it would incentivize patients to choose primary care over other methods of care, such as walk-in clinics.
3. Innovate with patients in mind, not prestige.
Six out of ten adults in the US have at least one chronic illness, and that care accounts for the vast majority of all healthcare spending in the country. The good news? The majority of chronic illness can be managed through access to primary care and care management services.
Minor illnesses are also better managed by solutions more in the tune of primary care. If I suffer from a headache, I don’t necessarily need to go in for an MRI. If I have a cold, I don’t necessarily need to go to the emergency room.
The trouble is that hospitals are innovating around technological advancements more than anything else; in other words medical innovation is outpacing business model innovation. In order to design a care system that works for the majority of patients, innovators must design business models that match patients’ health concerns with the appropriate level of care. For some patients, having access to the latest and greatest in diagnostic technology is the most important. For others, being able to pick up a prescription during a lunch break is key. Not all health conditions are the same, just as no two people are the same. Yet our healthcare system is designed around creating top of the line medical technology, rather than simplifying care to a standard more useful to many patients.
Instead of focusing solely on the best technology can possibly offer—which only benefits those who need high-touch specialist care—innovation should focus more on making care more accessible to more people. If we design accessible and affordable systems around the fact that not every situation calls for elaborate care, we create a health system that is actually useful for many.
Healthcare is poised to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind this year; in addition to personal concerns about cost and coverage, the 2020 election will make healthcare a constant topic of discussion. This is a prime opportunity to work and make some meaningful changes in how healthcare works in this country. As we move into the new year and the new decade, healthcare innovators should use this as a fresh start to make meaningful, positive changes to improve the system.