Six health care trends to watch in 2017

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Whether you are a new professional or a seasoned veteran in the middle of a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, you should keep an eye on the following six trends in health care in 2017:

1. The influence of Big Data

Data use is on the rise in health care. According to enterprise software company MapR Technologies, in 2017, health care data specifically will be used to reduce fraud, waste and abuse. The tech organization reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services used predictive analysis to prevent $210.7 million in health care fraud in a single year. An increasing number of institutions likely will follow suit, incorporating “big data” — a term commonly used to describe extremely large sets of information — into their practices to improve processes and save money.

Health care organizations are able to use collected data to improve value-based, patient-centered care. For instance, MapR reported that data from electronic health records (EHRs) is being used in predictive modeling to increase diagnosis speed and reduce mortality of health problems such as sepsis and congestive heart failure.

2. An increase in health care record accessibility

As more information is stored in EHRs and other digital formats, these records need to be accessible to ensure that the data can be leveraged effectively. This accessibility applies not only to the provider side but also to the patient’s ability to view the information: “Patients and their physicians need access to their health forms and personal medical records quickly and efficiently, a demand that will only increase in the coming year,” Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack, wrote for Becker’s Hospital Review. “Allowing that level of access can mean improvements in care and patient outcomes.”

Increased health records access allows providers to make more informed treatment plan decisions and also helps patients to be more involved in their own care, Byers added. Being able to view health information at their desktop or on their mobile device gives patients the confidence to be more engaged in their health decisions, which studies suggest can lead to improved outcomes.

This trend ties into the increased push toward national interoperability between health care organizations, a goal which was laid out by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s Interoperability Road Map in 2016.

3. A prescription for rising drug costs

Over the last several years, U.S. prescription drug prices have risen significantly. This trend is predicted to continue to be a problem faced by the health care industry throughout 2017. According to Segal Consulting, in 2017, prescription drug costs are expected to increase by 11.6 percent for Americans under the age of 65 and 9.9 percent for retirees over the age of 65. The group’s research predicted that specialty drugs/biotech will be even higher, at 18.7 percent. These numbers are similar to the 2016 figure, which was 18.9 percent.

The health care industry has begun looking for ways to combat the trend of rising prescription drug costs. President Donald Trump has stated that bringing down the price of prescription drugs is one of his goals for U.S. health care. In his first address to Congress, Trump asserted that his administration, as well as members of Congress, should “work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.”

Healthy foods sit on a table with a stethoscope

4. The nutrition focus of population health

Population health — the facet of health care that focuses on the collective health of a group of people — is increasingly important in the United States. As professionals look for ways to improve the health outcomes of entire communities, preventive care is seen as an important strategy for improving the health of the nation’s populations, while simultaneously saving money for both patients and health care organizations.

“A better health care model is one that makes people healthier by reducing health barriers, promoting disease prevention and ensuring a dedicated focus on the sickest among us,” wrote Roy Beveridge, chief medical officer for Humana, in Forbes. “It is not simply taking care of people when they become sick. It is working to prevent people from becoming sick. That is not just ‘sick care,’ but it is health care.”

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on top industry issues in 2017 indicated that there will continue to be an increased emphasis on the role of nutrition in population health through the end of the year. A component of preventive care strategies, nutrition is an important way to prevent expensive medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.

In a 2016 PwC Health Research Institute Consumer Survey, consumers were asked if they would accept free assistance with a medical condition related to diet or advice on weight management from a nutritionist or dietician from a variety of settings. Respondents reported that they would accept this advice if it was associated with a:

  • Doctor (79 percent)
  • Pharmacy (59 percent)
  • Gym (41 percent)
  • Employer (38 percent)
  • Grocery store (28 percent)
  • Big box store (17 percent)

These numbers suggest that consumers most likely will trust nutritional advice given by a nutritionist or dietician associated with a doctor; emphasizing the important role that health care can play in influencing nutrition in population health.

5. The rise of consumerism

With the growing connectivity of the world, consumers more easily can research businesses before deciding where to spend money. Health care is no exception. Patients can go online to compare providers, health care facilities and treatment plans prior to making decisions about where they want to receive their care.

This rise of consumerism in health care is influenced by the fact that consumers are financially contributing increasing amounts to their own care in the form of rising premium costs and other rates. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, out-of-pocket costs for covered workers grew by 77 percent on average between 2004 and 2014. Because they have more money at risk, patients are more likely to engage in their care and take extra steps to ensure that they are getting the best value for their money.

6. The emphasis on data security

As more patient information is stored online, cyber attacks pose a growing threat. According to the Breach Barometer Report: Year in Review, there was an average of at least one data breach per day in the health care industry in 2016. These incidents affected more than 27 million patient records. “While some of this increase [in health care breaches] can be attributed to improved reporting, the tremendous financial value of personal health information, increasing sophistication of malicious technologies and a potentially more permissive regulatory environment are certainly fueling more personal information to become accessible without our personal consent,” Sumit Nagpal, CEO and co-founder of health IT company LumiraDx, told Becker’s Hospital Review. “We have serious reasons to be concerned.”

Nagpal recommended that health care organizations continue to invest in cybersecurity measures while increasing transparency with patients about how information is protected.

As the health care industry adapts to trends such as increased data use, the growing importance of population health and rising costs in 2017, nurses will continue to play an important role in ensuring that safe, high-quality care is provided to patients. If you are a nurse who is interested in having a larger part in shaping how your workplace — and health care, in general — responds to new challenges, consider earning a DNP degree through Bradley University’s online program. A DNP with a leadership concentration can help prepare you for a number of clinical roles in which you can influence policy and best practices within your organization.