The response from those in attendance at the Colorado Hospital Association meeting where I recently gave a keynote presentation was simply amazing! It was so overwhelmingly positive that I have decided to share some of the presentation with you who were not able to attend. Here is what I believe will be the top 10 effects of digital innovation on hospitals and the health sector for patients and consumers. I would love to hear what you think! Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

Top 10 effects of digital innovation on hospitals

  1. Insurance companies will become Health Companies.
  2. Retail stores, pharmacies & post-offices become health centers.
  3. Your TV (and any other screen) will become your doctor’s office.
  4. Your smartphone will become a health device.
  5. Consumer technology, smart clothes & health apps etc. will assist with health management.
  6. Patients will support each other through social media, VR and AR.
  7. Doctor’s will treat environments not just patients.
  8. Our medicines will tell us when they need to be taken.
  9. Your car will become your ambulance.
  10. Your Home will become your hospital.

A recent question on social media caught my attention. A well respected and prominent physician entrepreneur posed a question that essentially asked about the qualifications and thereby value of a Health futurist. Most people who responded regarded futurists somewhere between used car salesmen and outright charlatans. It is true, futurist, innovator, thought leader, healthcare disrupter and other terms like these are often over used and meaningless, Not all innovation is disruptive. Many solutions hailed as disruptive, simply not.  Many “visionary” leaders are simply taking the most logical next steps, before anyone else does. Having spent almost the last 30 years of my life in healthcare, I have and continue to see a stunning amount of inability among traditional healthcare leaders to apply anything beyond an incrementalist vision to health innovation and the future. This is true even among many who claim to be futurists and disruptive innovators!! Because healthcare is increasingly becoming a market based and driven sector, continuing to have 17+ year product life cycles (as has been reported to be common in healthcare) to get innovations (new drugs, practice enhancements, care delivery models, etc.) from the bench to the bedside and beyond, is simply not sustainable, especially when other sectors (and increasingly competitors) are moving much faster. Those individuals who have the background, experience and ability to provide more than incremental insights, can help traditional healthcare organizations, practitioners and researchers better understand the perspectives of working under these emerging realities. This knowledge and insight can equip healthcare leaders to make decisions that better align with the broader market and societal forces that are impacting their profession. Ultimately, these leaders will be the ones most likely to be able to pivot and thrive in the healthcare sector of tomorrow, not just the healthcare sector of yesterday and today.

Sure, predicting the future accurately and consistently is hard, if not impossible. However, understanding the challenges and opportunities that will likely present themselves in the future, is a matter of clearly defining current needs in the context of societal trends and thinking through these challenges from multiple perspectives with the explicit goal of conceptualizing previously unrecognized solutions. It is not magic. It is a skill, albeit a particularly complex one, that can be developed, like any other skill. The most difficult challenge to mastering this skill, is the fact that healthcare is a complex and ever-changing system, with many moving parts.  Most people who work in healthcare have specialized skill in one area. Very few have specialized skill in two areas or disciplines.  So while they may be experts in their area, they are limited in their ability to see the issues from the multiple perspectives impacting healthcare.  Also, given the conservative nature of the health sciences, incrementalism is rewarded, in research and practice. As such, many healthcare leaders spend a lot of time staying on top of their field, but they are often not able to keep up with broader societal changes that are impacting their profession. The very thing that made them an expert (specialization) is also making it less likely that they can be the best futurists or the most disruptive innovators. On the other hand, those individuals who are better at “seeing” important societal trends and helping leaders execute effectively, become known as the futurists. The world of health really is changing all around us. If your health organization is interested in surviving, it really has no other choice but to think hard about the future. Fundamentally, leaders have a choice, they can either respond to the future, or help to shape it. Can your organization benefit from a health futurist? Maybe. It really depends on you.

Telehealth is the use of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure to enable or facilitate health related activities. The use of Telehealth is growing rapidly in the US. As this occurs the types of technologies and the ways in which they are used in healthcare is also rapidly changing. Today, telehealth services are delivered in 4 basic ways. These include a) live video-based interactions between two individuals b) the transmission of prerecorded digital pictures and images c) remote patient monitoring which is the collection and wireless transmission of health information from an individual in one location to someone in another location and d) mHealth which involves the use of mobile hardware (phones, tablets etc.) and software (apps) to enable or facilitate health activities.

The delivery of telehealth services is often organized in one of three ways or models. When a large healthcare system is the primary provider of telehealth services to smaller often rural hospitals, this is called the hub and spoke model of telehealth organization and delivery. Alternatively, telehealth services can be delivered through a network model. In this model health care facilities are connected to each other, creating large networks and smaller subnetworks which work at times, independently and at other times together, to provide a range of telehealth services to patients and caregivers. Thirdly, due in large part to advances in broadband network availability and reliability, telehealth is increasingly being deployed in a “direct to consumer” model where consumers using their own devices can directly connect with health personnel and services anytime, anyplace.

So, what impact will telehealth have on the health sector in the future? Over the next decade we will continue to see tremendous innovation and evolution in the telehealth space. This will continue until most patients and most providers will be delivering health services using some form of telecommunications technology and or infrastructure. Consumer telehealth devices will go far beyond cell phones, tablets and apps to include voice activated systems like Amazon Alexa or Google Home, automobiles and even homes and buildings themselves. There will be tremendous growth in the types of data that can and will be collected from patients.  There will also be rapid growth in the number of ways in which this data can be collected. Many everyday consumer devices will not only capture data and send it somewhere to be analyzed, but these devices will also, in the future, be able to appropriately act of the collected information, in real time without the direct involvement of a healthcare professional or family caregiver.  This is the basis of what are known as “smart devices”.  They are smart because computing power will have advanced to the point where it can be put not only into desktop computers and cell phones but into devices as small as dust or blood cells.  They will not need batteries, because they will be able to run using the electricity generated by our bodies. Finally, they will in many cases, transfer information using low power medical body area networks which will enable the automatic capture and transmission of information from multiple body worn sensors simultaneously and wirelessly. The introduction of 5G networks will enable an era of continuous connectivity (or pervasive computing as it is also known). This will allow patients, caregivers and providers alike to monitor important health information continuously. (in real time, at all times, no matter where a patient, consumer or provider is located). Finally, there will be further evolution in the models of care delivery. Current models of telehealth all require an individual to decide to provide or receive a telehealth-based service. These models of Telehealth can be said to be “active” models because they require a person to do something in order to receive the or deliver the service. In the future, telehealth services will be delivered, in many cases, automatically, as the need arises. At times, patients will not even realize they are receiving health services at all, because delivery or receipt of the services will not require any active action and the spaces in which will live, work and play, will all be connected and smart. In this future, health care providers will oversee the development of the “brains” of these systems but will not always need to be involved in deciding or implementing the appropriate action to address the health concern. Broadband based technologies like telehealth are changing the world in exciting ways that are sometimes hard to imagine. They also have the potential to make the possibility of health a reality, for all.

GreystonevectorSocietal forces are pushing healthcare out of hospitals and into the home.  Healthcare professionals have new incentives to care about the behavior of their patients, in between hospital visits. Many patients are taking more ownership of their health and healthcare.  Soon one in three Americans will be over the age of 65 and almost 90 million people will be over the age of 85. Approximately 11,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every single day. Most of these people want to continue living independently in their homes as long as possible. These consumers will demand a paradigm shift in which they can receive healthcare services, use educational content and respond to employment opportunities “On Demand”, when they need/want them, not just when the store, office or clinic is open.

In the future, our homes and cars will identify us and unlock the doors by reading our heartbeats. These homes will diagnose health issues and instantly deliver treatments, sometimes before we even know there is an issue. They will use cloud based artificial intelligence, machine learning and smart devices in the home, to prevent serious health problems from ever even occurring.  Residents, caregivers and homeowners will have unprecedented ability to engage, monitor and manage their health and the care of loved ones anytime, anywhere.

Smartcare Communities are about reimagining living spaces into residential networked community dwellings that are optimized for health.

SmartCare community residents who need health services could receive televisits through flat screen TV’s located in the privacy of their apartments. Alternatively, they could walk down to the community urgent care center if they like. Also, residents could even receive in person, robot or avatar based house calls if necessary. Health sensors in the homes along with information from wearable devices like smart watches and other wearables would be collected and insights delivered to residents each morning, by their preferred method, email, text, voice (Alexa), video (TV), to help patients manage their health concerns. This is just the beginning.

The question is though, will the poor and middle class ever benefit from these advances or will they remain in the hands of the wealthy? How will people from underserved populations (rural, inner city, elderly, homeless, substance abusers etc.) be able to purchase these homes? Join us for a special discussion on “Smart Cities and Smart Care at HIMSS18 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas March 5-8, 2018. Here we, along with 40,000+ others will discuss this and many other important topics in Health and technology. Join us for a fascinating discussion as we create the future of health and care!

Yesterday CVS Health announced that it has agreed to buy Aetna for $69 billion. If the deal goes through, it should send shock waves through the health care system. CVS is not only the largest pharmacy chain in the US, but it is also the 7th largest company in the US with approximately 9600 retail stores in 2016. But CVS Health has plans to move beyond being just a pharmacy and convenience store to become a bona fide healthcare company. The emerging 3-part strategy is potentially powerful! One part of the strategy is to expand the current offerings of CVS pharmacy’s to included more traditional healthcare services that formerly required hospital or doctor’s office visits. Given that CVS Health already provides healthcare services through its more than 1,100 MinuteClinic medical clinics as well as their Diabetes Care Centers currently located within CVS stores this transition is likely doable. The second part of the strategy appears to be aimed at driving down healthcare costs through creating a virtually wholly owned prescription drug ecosystem, not unlike the IOS ecosystem created by Apple. which is on the brink of becoming the first trillion-dollar and most successful company in the world. The third part of the strategy, which builds on the first two parts, is focused on driving value for consumers. While some may doubt their ability to accomplish this goal, the rising popularity of retail healthcare outlets, the potential for vastly enhanced consumer healthcare experience (little to no waiting lines or delays in seeing providers, easy access to medical facilities located in local communities, lower medication and care delivery costs, familiar, trusted care delivery settings combined with convenience shopping opportunities) strongly suggests that the essential elements are indeed in place. Interestingly, this vision and emerging strategy is in line with that of Aetna the 3rd largest health insurance company in America. Aetna’s CEO, Mark Bertolini took things even a step further last month while speaking at the Healthcare of tomorrow conference where he said that it will soon be possible to provide the bulk of care patients need, in the home and community. So, in the near future, “if you must go to the hospital, [the healthcare system] will have failed you”. In this new world traditional high cost, brick and mortar tertiary healthcare systems will simply not be able to compete on costs, convenience and as the evidence is beginning to indicate, not even quality. Their ability to pivot to a more sustainable care delivery model that substantially improves patient experience and value, will be limited. As such, the classic scenario for disruption, as originally articulated by Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen, and as applied to the organization and delivery of healthcare by Johns Hopkins experts  Gibbons and Shaikh, is in place and could eventually significantly impact the traditional healthcare system as we know it. Rather than sticking their heads in the sand, CVS and Aetna appear to be embracing the challenges that lay ahead and seizing the opportunities these changes bring. It remains to be seen, if others will join them, or be left behind.

Face A lot has been said about the disruptive effects of emerging technologies on diagnostics, clinical decision making, therapy and patient engagement. However a new report from the health technology research, innovation and consulting company suggests emerging technologies will have a profound impact on the organization and composition of future health care systems. The report details eight national trends that will drastically reduce the need for hospitals, radically change insurance practices, provide disruptive new business models in health care. The resulting systems will not be located in one centralized area but more virtual and located in consumers connected smart homes and communities that automatically treat the environment not just the patient, sometimes before they or family members recognize they are even sick.

If the authors are right, the healthcare systems of tomorrow will look nothing like the healthcare systems of today, yet these future systems will provide better care, when consumers need it, at lower cost and with higher patient satisfaction and better outcomes. At this point, it is probably reasonable to drop the mic!

To read the full report click here.

fiber-optic-cable-serivcesWhile technology based innovation in healthcare is not new, the growing diversity of US (and Global) populations combined with the significant lack of diversity in the tech sector, represent both a problem with potentially far reaching consequences and an opportunity with transformative potential.

One critical key to improving health in America, is to provide consumers with much better “user experiences” in healthcare. It does not matter whether healthcare happens in hospitals and is provided by professionals or at home and is provided by parents, loved ones or other caregivers, the experiences of patients and consumers who are struggling with health concerns can and should be significantly improved. “Who continues to engage in activities that are unappealing, boring and inconvenient”, they ask. “In our current system, you only need a hospital when you hurt or there is a problem”. “When you go there, they are cold places where doctors always wear white coats, there are long waiting periods, odd odors and yet the healthcare system want us to get more engaged?!” While there are some good reasons for the way things are currently being done in the healthcare system, there is much room for improvement.

Health goals will not likely be realized without creating a healthcare delivery system that is more patient and consumer centered and therefore more responsive to cultural differences that exist in an increasingly diverse US population.  The Institute of Medicine has highlighted this need by calling for initiatives to enhance the cultural appropriateness of the healthcare delivery system. In addition, noted anthropologist Diana Forsythe has done studies which show that computer based solutions are embedded with “hidden cultural assumptions,” that are inevitably made by innovators and designers. Designers often believe their creations to be culturally neutral. In reality though, the cultural assumptions that have been made, may not be appropriate for all consumers or patients. Other authors have called, for deeper understanding of how health information should be tailored for diverse cultural groups, how cultural factors affect the use of health technologies, and how health technology may be used to mitigate intractable health gaps. Finally, computer engineers have long understood that designers must design for the physical, cognitive and cultural realities in which consumers live, in order for digital solutions to be valued, usable and provide patients and consumers the best user experiences. Cultural difference manifest in a range of technological system elements – from keyboard layout to attitudes toward privacy – each of which have important design implications. Indeed some experts suggest that design factors such as culture can no longer be dismissed nor can a design be considered truly user-centered if it does not address cultural factors.

The lack of diversity will inevitably lead to the development of health solutions that are most appropriate for users whose demographics, behaviors, mental models and cultural norms are similar to those of the creators. As these solutions proliferate and the US population continues to become increasingly diverse, it is inevitable that usability and utilization gaps will appear across users from different backgrounds. In the healthcare sector, these gaps may translate into poor health outcomes for certain users and may eventually lead to widening health disparities between patient groups.

It is possible though, to close health technology usability and utilization gaps and in turn reduce or eliminate intractable health problems. The first step is to disrupt the traditional innovation process itself. In the traditional design thinking processes of innovation, ethnographic studies support innovation for a particular market. However we propose an alternate  “Collaborative innovation” model which is not about innovation for a market, but innovation with a market.” While traditional innovation formulates a ‘user’ who must be studied and for whom innovation is done. Collaborative innovation, involves the community that is the target of innovation, in every aspect of the design, innovation, and startup processes. It’s about empowering communities to articulate their own problems and innovate for themselves, in collaboration with stakeholders who bring needed expertise to the development process. Shifting the traditional innovation model will not be easy nor will it come quickly.  This is primarily because most people are reluctant to embrace change, especially in areas they don’t understand or in which they have little knowledge, experience or expertise. This is completely reasonable, logical and safe they say.  But is also precisely the reason that most diversity strategies will continue to yield very slow progress.

It is really imperative that we go beyond creating more “traditional” incubators & accelerators. This is because new entrepreneurs from multicultural backgrounds often (though not always) need more mentorship than more traditional innovators and entrepreneurs. Because in general, they lack the exposures and informal mentoring that is often available to more traditional innovators, it becomes difficult for many of them to even believe that an opportunity, is a possibility, if no one that they know, or that looks like them, has ever done it before.

In closing, most children are taught in preschool, the Arnold Munk story entitled The Little Engine that Could. In the story, a long train needed to be pulled over a high mountain. Large train engines, were asked to pull the train, but for various reasons they refused. The request is sent to a small engine, who agrees to try. Ultimately, the engine succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain while repeating the phrase “I-think-I-can”, “I-think-I-can.  While most children, in the US have heard the story, for some children it becomes a metaphor for hard work and success, while for others it remains a cute children’s story. The reason this happens has little to do with intelligence or aptitude but everything to do with early life experiences, opportunity and societal norms. Can these things ever be changed? If the little engine could do it, why can’t we!

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.