Much has been said about the impact of emerging technology on modern healthcare. Many entrepreneurs and investors alike are intent on developing disruptive innovations that significantly improve clinical workflows, enable predictive analytics or enable widescale interoperability. While any of these would represent a significant medical advancement, several factors suggest that an even more far reaching disruption may be coming to healthcare for which these advances cannot prevent. I refer to the ultimate demise of hospitals themselves. Consider for example the following facts. First economic factors, policy and regulatory forces are already leading to less care being provided in the hospital and more care provision in the home and community. Secondly, retail healthcare outlets are rapidly growing in popularity. They exhibit high levels of patient satisfaction, shorter waiting times, lower costs and care quality that is on par or better than similar care provided in hospital emergency departments. Thirdly, hospitals are dangerous places! It has been well documented in the medical literature that many people who go to the hospital, get sick from illnesses they did not bring to the hospital. In fact, a recent study found that such hospital acquired problems are so common that they are actually the third leading cause of death! Fourth, advances in the computer sciences and broadband networks are fueling a revolution in medical device innovation that is enabling once large bedside and hospital confined medical devices to become miniaturized, handheld, ingestible, wearable, mobile and operable anywhere there is a broadband connection. In fact, some people who 20 years ago required stays in the Intensive Care Unit followed by lengthy hospitalizations prior to discharge are now are able to go home with small portable devices that do the work the ICU based machines did just 2 decades ago! Fifth, advances in robotics are now enabling surgeons located in one place to operate on patients located across town or across the globe. The spectrum of surgeries performed this way will likely increase in the future. Sixth, advances in telemedicine and telehealth are enabling physicians to see, talk to, examine and monitor their patients remotely, lowering the need for inconvenient visits to the doctor’s office or unnecessary visits to the ER or hospital. Seventh, hospitals were in part developed to centralize resources thereby reducing financial costs or improving opportunity costs. In the future, it may do neither. Finally, the emergence of artificial intelligence, and cognitive computing is providing unprecedented levels of data tracking and analytic capacity enabling the generation of insights that are instantly available to medical providers, patients and caregivers alike.
Given these realities then, why would patients, in the future, ever choose, to stay in a hospital? Why would payors insist that covered beneficiaries obtain care in high risk hospitals when lower risk and lower cost options with comparable outcomes are available? Obviously, they wouldn’t. While we are not there yet, it will not likely take 20 years for us to get there. It may not even take 10 years. There is a coming bloodbath for hospitals, as we currently know them. Only those systems that proactively embrace the opportunities these realities portend and innovate on the very notion of what a hospital is and does, will ultimately be able to survive.