It's looking to be the year of the consumer in health care, say leaders and visionaries in the industry.
New technology, changes in the market and the Affordable Care Act will allow more consumers to bid good-bye to some of the most frustrating parts of a troubled-health-care system. Waiting hours to see the doctor, taking hand-written prescriptions to the pharmacy while sick, chasing down medical records, and being left in the dark about what care will cost are all inconveniences that will soon go the way of the phone booth.
"The big trend is toward consumerism, with the individual customer being the new focal point," said Pat Geraghty, chairman and CEO of Florida Blue. "Previously, the system was built around the care provider. The new system will revolve around the consumer."
Karen van Caulil, president of the Florida Health Care Coalition, agrees: "All the turmoil we've gone through is good news for consumers," she said, referring to a year when America's health-care system underwent a historic overhaul.
Here are some improvements that will make health-care better for consumers:
Mobile apps: "Mobile health is an emerging, exploding category that lets consumers track their activity, fuel consumption and other measurements that help improve wellness and manage chronic diseases," said Thad Seymour, general manager of health and life sciences for Lake Nona, home of the Medical City and a growing health-centric community.
Wellness technology is also becoming embedded in homes, such as the Intelligent House in Lake Nona, where mirrors reflect residents' health statistics, and kitchen computers help them plan smart meals.
Virtual care: As more technology goes home with patients, more can be in touch with health providers remotely. For the Paul family of Lake Nona, a telehealth program through Nemours Children's Hospital lets them view their son's medical records any time from home. Nine-year-old Max, who has cystic fibrosis, is a frequent patient of Nemours Children's Hospital.
Being able to see her son's test results the minute they are available helps lessen Mom Lori Paul's anxiety.
Remote access is also allowing more patients to receive care when and where it's convenient for them. Programs like Skype and Face Time let patients have virtual doctor's visits from home.
At Orlando Regional Medical Center, certain patients who once would have been admitted are receiving hospital-level care at home. The doctors make house calls, and in between, videoconferencing and telemonitoring of vital signs make more acute in-home care possible, said hospital spokeswoman Kena Lewis.
Patients who meet the new program's criteria take home a camera and computer monitor, as well as equipment to monitor vital signs remotely. They avoid hospital infections, while getting convenient care in the comfort of their home.
Electronic records: Though many consumers have had concerns about the sharing of electronic health records, for good reason, this year patients will grow to appreciate the benefits.
As privacy and security bugs get worked out, electronic medical records will deliver many patient benefits, said Suhtling Wong, spokeswoman for a UCF College of Medicine program that is helping local physicians adopt paperless record systems.
For instance, all of a patient's doctors can share lab results, allowing for more coordinated care and less duplication of testing. Because pharmacists will get more prescriptions electronically, patients will be spared the hassle of taking them in and waiting for them to be filled.
In addition, electronic records allow doctors to more easily log into patient records after hours and help patients who need answers on evenings and weekends.
A window into cost and quality: Transparency is another buzz word in the industry, thanks in part to Obamacare. Consumers will increasingly be able to see more information that's eluded them, such as how much procedures cost and the quality ratings of providers, as insurers make that data available on their websites. That knowledge will help consumers determine value and be better shoppers, while helping to keep provider costs inline.
Bringing care to the streets: Speaking of shopping, in 2014, more consumers will get their care at the corner store. "Walmart aspires to be the leading primary-care provider in the next 10 years," said Geraghty. "Walgreens has started to develop primary care sites."
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Forecast 2014: Health Care
Bright spots:Lake Nona Medical City will break ground on its Innovation Center, the newest star in the constellation health and science centers there. The community's general manager of health and life sciences, Thad Seymour, describes the new center as "an incubator for disruptive change and new ideas." It will bring together scientists, business leaders, health practitioners and the pharmaceutical industry.
Storm clouds: Hospitals worry that the pressures on them to manage the health care of those with the least resources will get worse. "In Florida, Medicaid funding to hospitals has decreased dramatically, and hospitals actually lose money on every Medicaid patient," said Dr. Jamal Hakim, interim CEO at Orlando Health. The state will need to rapidly figure out how to better manage health-care support for these individuals."
Trends to watch: The continuing rollout of Obamacare will force more shifts in the landscape. As more patients get insured and can afford to see doctors, the already short-supply of primary care doctors will be taxed. Market players will make new alignments, as providers collaborate more with other providers or payers. Mid-term elections this year will turn the volume up on the Obamacare debate as different political sides praise or bash the law and posture for voters.