Innovations in research, patient ownership in their own care, and emerging technologies are providing people tools to take wellness into their own hands.
By Sondra Barr
The subject of health is a very personal one, which is why we take it so seriously and feel so passionately about safeguarding it and receiving the very best care we can for ourselves and our loved ones. The system that we have here in the United States, while imperfect, fosters excellence and innovation in many areas, from the prevention of illness through healthy living, to the diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses. Because of advanced treatments like immunotherapies for various types of cancer, and other state-of-the-art technology used for screening and medication, the U.S. has among the best cancer survival statistics in the world.
And while the subject of healthcare remains a controversial one, the fact remains that more Americans than ever have insurance coverage, with the uninsured rate at a historic low of about 9%, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. In general, Americans are optimistic about the future of health care. They have faith that innovation and medical advances will help future generations live longer, healthier lives. In fact, a public opinion survey conducted by CVS Health and Forbes found that 52% of parents believe that their children will have better healthcare in the future.
The public, policymakers, and industry leaders are continually looking for ways to improve the quality of care while making healthcare, particularly as it relates to chronic and serious illnesses, more affordable. The good news is, as it concerns the diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses, the United States gets high marks. In a comparison of five other nations––Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom––The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation to promote a high-performing healthcare system, ranked the United States first in providing the “right care” for a given condition.
We also do well in the area of preventative care, which includes Pap smears and mammograms for the detection of early stage cancers, and blood tests. And while most people acknowledge that there is always room for improvement, they also believe that the care they personally receive has not changed, and are more likely to say that it has improved rather than gotten worse.
Emerging Healthcare Trends
The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) greatly altered the conversation about healthcare in the United States. On the positive side, as mentioned previously, more Americans than ever have health insurance coverage. Now, changes in the ACA––including the elimination of the individual mandate, which required most Americans to carry a minimum level of health coverage in order to avoid a fine––will have an effect on both traditional carriers and employer funded plans. In an article titled “Healthcare Trends for 2018,” the American Health & Drug Benefits journal identified themes that are expected to emerge with healthcare in the United States.
First, the American Hospital Association has found that rural hospitals provide essential healthcare services to almost 57 million people. The emergence of new technology such as wearable health monitors, telemedicine, even smartphone apps that quickly connect people to doctors, can better serve these growing rural markets. Secondly, consumers are more engaged in making sure they are getting the best value for their money, and expect transparency and choice. This increased consumer engagement will likely influence the options and tools providers will use to help patients take ownership of their health.
In addition, many people still receive healthcare coverage through their employers. The U.S. Census found that millennials outnumber baby boomers by approximately 7.7 million. This means that the workforce encompasses multiple generations with different needs, some of whom work remotely at least part of the time. This affects how benefits are communicated to employees, as well as the breadth of services expected and needed. Overall, healthcare is becoming more and more personalized, requiring more innovation to keep prices down while effectively serving varying segments of the population.
Increasingly, people are taking their wellness into their own hands. The proliferation of wearable step counters, heart-rate monitors and the like is evidence of this. The popularity of accessories that monitor your vital signs, biometric data, and activity levels shows that people are concerned about not just treating illnesses, but doing what they can to avoid getting sick in the first place. Private companies and healthcare providers can capitalize on trends to improve treatment by making it more personalized, and in theory, more effective. Already, genetic counseling to detect certain types of breast cancer is helping patients to make life-changing decisions regarding their health. It is this type of innovation and research that keeps the United States at the forefront of advancements in wellness and healthcare concerns.
Choosing the Right Care
In the event that you do get sick and need treatment, there are an infinite number of specialists, primary care doctors, emergency or urgent care options to consider. This can be both a positive and a negative. How do you know where to go or how to choose? Do you rely on the recommendation of a friend or family? In the case of major illness or injury, a bit of research can point you to a doctor or physician that might be best for your circumstance. But where do you start?
Consumer Reports on Health offers some tips on finding a go-to doctor that can best serve your needs. Here’s what they recommend:
- Check your insurance to see which doctors are in your network
- Check the ratings of your local hospitals, then confirm that your preferred doctor has admitting privileges there.
- Particularly for specialists, look for doctors who are board certified in your area of concern.
- Look for malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. More than one or two may not be a big deal, but multiple claims and actions should raise a red flag.
- Meet in person. There’s a lot to be said for personal compatibility. Schedule a consultation to be sure the doctor is attentive to your needs, answers questions adequately, and shares your philosophy as it applies to treatment options.
- Look beyond just the physician. Find out how long it will take to get in for an appointment. Observe the office staff and environment. Factor in technology issues such as online patient portals that give you access to your information, or electronic health records that enable doctors to share info and monitor your prescriptions, for example.
The United States healthcare system may be imperfect, but innovations in research, patient ownership in their own care, and emerging technologies continue to ensure that we remain at the forefront of keeping our communities healthy, and providing the best possible treatment when illness or injury strikes.