Erika Fry wrote an excellent article in Fortune about the views of Bernard J. Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente (KP). KP is a healthcare giant in California with 9.5 million members, 174,415 employees, 17,425 physicians, 48,285 nurses, 38 hospitals, and more than $50 billion in operating revenues. It has been a pioneer in leveraging the Internet for patient communications. KP’s view of the future of healthcare counts.I share the views of Mr. Tyson about a rosy future for healthcare in America. I paraphrase his five reasons for optimism below.
1. A shift is underway from fee for service reimbursement to a value based reimbursement. From incentives for sickness to wellness. Health systems are developing team based care. They will be shifting focus to population health instead of a one patient at a time approach. All these things will take some time but there is no stopping this positive direction.
2. Consumer behaviors are changing. Instead of a “fix me” model, consumers will take more responsibility for their health and will use mHealth apps to diagnose their conditions. Consumers who track more will be healthier. These shifting attitudes will lead to better health.
3. Electronic communications will increase. Some doctors don’t like email. KP doctors conducted 20 million e-visits in 2014. Patients like it. Digital checkups will not replace doctors but they will improve physician productivity and lead to better health.
4. The most inefficient part of our healthcare system is the lack of interoperability between electronic health record (EHR) systems. This has to be a national priority and is an area where government can help. It is slow in coming but work is underway at multiple levels to build the compatibility that we need and expect.
5. What could stand in the way of all this progress? There are many challenges. One of them is the high and rising cost of drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has the largest lobbying force of any industry. Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating for better prices. We subsidize the cost of drugs in other developed countries. Mr. Tyson calls it, “Irrational pricing”. Consumer and political pressure will help. Much more about this and the other four points in Health Attitude.