PwC identifies 10 healthcare issues to look for in 2016

In 2016, consumers and clinicians will embrace technology to create a more connected healthcare system, according to a forward-looking report from the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI).

An HRI online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults in the fall of 2015 found that 32 percent of consumers said they had at least one health app on their smartphone in 2015, up from 16 percent two years earlier. Meanwhile, 60 percent said they would be willing to have a video visit with a physician through a mobile device, 88 percent said they would be willing to share personal data with their doctor to find new treatments and 21 percent said they had used a mobile device to order a prescription refill.

Among clinicians, 81 percent said mobile access to medical information helps coordinate patient care, 58 percent said they preferred to provide a portion of care virtually and 74 percent said non-traditional venues such as retail clinics improved the access to care. In addition, 38 percent said they used email to stay connected with chronic disease patients .

PwC identified 10 healthcare trends to watch for in 2016, as well:

  1. Mergers to continue – PwC said the proposed mergers of health insurance companies will consolidate and transform the industry. This past summer, Anthem agreed to buy Cigna and Aetna agreed to acquire Humana, which could leave only three major insurers if those deals pass regulatory scrutiny in 2016. If the deals are approved, PwC said it could lead to further consolidation.
  2. Collaboration to deal with drug cost scrutiny – PwC said pharmaceutical companies may decide to collaborate with patients, insurers and groups that assess the values of drugs to help deal with the increased attention on the high costs of medications. PwC noted that insurers and pharmaceutical companies do not trust each others’ data, so they could both benefit by agreeing on third-party, pricing and value models.
  3. Smartphones to become more ubiquitous – PwC cited research that nearly half of all Americans have smartphones, although the company said the phones, connected medical accessories and apps have been underutilized in healthcare. PwC said smartphones and connected devices can be used for wellness programs, chronic disease management, on-demand e-visits and remote monitoring.
  4. Emphasis on cybersecurity – PwC noted that Internet-connected healthcare products are expected to be worth an estimated $285 billion in economic value by 2020, making it crucial for clinicians and device companies to pay attention to potential breaches. PwC said the FDA has issued warnings and guidance documents about cybersecurity, but it does not require physicians and companies to ensure only trusted users can access devices. PwC suggested that companies routinely assess the security of devices and make sure the devices are updated, behind firewalls and on separate networks from important medical and personal data.
  5. Consumers in charge of their healthcare – PwC said the rise of high deductible plans will cause more people to manage their own health spending in 2016. The HRI survey found more than half of 18 to 34 year olds planned on using a service to help plan for medical expenses. PwC also said the five largest wealth management firms incorporate healthcare into long-term financial planning.
  6. Behavioral healthcare no longer in the shadows – PwC said employers are focusing more on behavioral health and understanding that mental health plays a major role in their employees’ and customers’ well-being and productivity. Still, even as people and companies become more aware of behavioral health issues, PwC noted there is a lack of qualified professionals to provide care. The use of technology to conduct virtual visits directly with patients may help. Technologies that improve the diagnosis of mental illness through biometric indicators and technologies that connect consumers with mental health clinicians via a smartphone app seem promising, as well.
  7. Lower-cost care settings – PwC said health systems will shift patients into lower-cost setting such as moving them from emergency departments to community hospitals when appropriate. The trend comes as value-based care models become the norm and reimbursement is tied to keeping costs down, reducing hospitals readmissions and making sure patients remain as healthy as possible. Some health systems have implemented “bedless” hospitals, in which they eliminate inpatient care in new hospitals but continue to offer services such as an emergency room, observation unit, operating rooms and outpatient facilities for specialties.
  8. Big data analysis – PwC said the healthcare industry will embrace so-called “non-relational” databases and analyze them to get insight into their patients and systems. For years, hospitals have used “relational” databases such as electronic health records. Although those databases are effective at analyzing easily structured information, PwC noted that they have trouble handling information such as clinician notes, transcripts and other unstructured data.
  9. Biosimilars on the market – PwC noted that the first biosimilar in the U.S. was approved in 2015 and that the FDA will review four more biosimilar applications in 2016. Biosimilars will be less expensive than biologics, although the price discrepancy isn’t as large as between traditional branded pharmaceutical drugs and their generics. PwC said integrated health systems should encourage patients to use biosimilars when appropriate and tell patients about the cost savings associated with biosimilars.
  10. Transparency in costs – PwC said consumers, insurers and other healthcare purchasers will continue to demand more value for their healthcare spending and a better understanding of the costs of treatments and services. PwC noted that health systems that provide accurate pricing may benefit as more consumers are willing to change providers and identify more affordable care at convenient locations.