I recently attended the World Healthcare Congress (WHCC) in Washington DC. I was at the same event last year and it was interesting to see the subtle shift in priorities from just a year ago. One thing remained very much the same however: no one seems to have a clear picture of what health care in the U.S. will look like ten, or even five years from now. Everyone understands that the largest industry in the country is going through a period of disruption caused not just by, nor even primarily by, legislation, but more fundamentally by demographics and technology.
What needs to be accomplished is less unclear. Providers need to treat consumers of health care like customers whose business they are competing for. Providers and payers will have to take a long-term approach to health management to maximize value and drive optimal outcomes. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear how we’ll get there at WHCC. For the entire healthcare industry, this is still very much a work in progress.
Two full days of listening to and talking with some of the smartest people in health care, here are the main points I come away with:
- Last year the key topics at the World Healthcare Congress were the transfer of risk from payers to providers and the consumerization of health care. This year it was all about customer experience and customer engagement. That’s progress, of sorts. A health care tech CEO I spoke with who is well-positioned to know such things told me the fastest growing executive position among health care provider organizations is CCEO, the Chief Customer Experience Officer.
- ACA is here to stay. Or something like it, anyway. Or at least something other than the current employer-driven health care coverage model. The operating assumption of all of the delegates I heard and spoke with in the provider and payer tracks at the WHCC is that consumers will be the dominant purchasers of health care coverage in the not-too-distant future.
- Millennials are more important than ACA in driving change in healthcare. They are used to experiences like the internet and iPhone apps that make ordering goods and services easy. Providers and payers believe that if they don’t make consumer engagement easy (or at least easier) millennials will ignore them. This is potentially detrimental to the health of millennials, and detrimental to the finances of healthcare organizations that don’t figure out how to successfully engage millennials before their competitors do.
- Providers and payers (especially payers but I’m including providers here as the line between the two is getting blurrier) love millennials. They really, really love millennials. The young and healthies that get coverage tend towards low-cost plans with high deductibles, the result being the vast majority of them are de facto self-covering.
- Health plans know you hate them. They conduct surveys and work with market research firms; so they know. They know they have to change the way they deal with consumers, but they don’t know how. They know they have to change but they are openly clueless about what the future will look like. Meanwhile they take solace from the fact you hate your cable TV provider even more.
- This point is repetitive but it bears repeating; you might have noticed that in five major takeaways from a major annual health care conference the word ‘patient’ appears nowhere. Health care providers are beginning to change the way they think about the rest of us: they understand that the lack of a medical degree doesn’t make us captive, passive or even ignorant. We know what we like and how we want to be treated by the service providers we’re paying. The healthcare industry is catching on. It may still be largely lip service but it is more urgent lip service than at last year’s congress. The extent to which these are still just talking points is not due to a lack of sincerity, but to lack of knowledge.
What is this going to look like?