January 9, 2017 Ask Owen

5 Trends Impacting Healthcare in 2017

If there’s one word to describe the healthcare landscape over the past few years, it’s “change.” From a growing emphasis on outcomes to increasingly empowered consumers to a paradigm shift from products to patients, the healthcare arena of today is dramatically different from the field I entered more than two decades ago.

Berkshire Medical Tech's 2017 Trends

Berkshire Medical Tech’s 2017 Trends

But the changes we’ve experienced so far may pale in comparison to the changes that may be ahead. That’s because forces beyond healthcare, including the rapid development of emerging technologies, new thinking about how people work best and changing employee expectations, are reshaping how healthcare leaders approach their businesses.

Indeed, 2017 may usher in some of the most dynamic trends yet. Here are five I’ll be watching closely:

Automation

Last year, Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo defeated grandmaster Lee Sedol at the strategy game Go, highlighting the immense power of machine learning and inspiring breathless headlines about the future impact of this innovation. But in healthcare, this technology is already transforming how we search for cures.

IBM Watson, for example, is helping scientists analyze massive amounts of information to uncover new cures for cancer and boost the rapidly evolving field of immuno-oncology, which enlists the body’s own immune system to fight back against cancer. Watson can crunch millions of data sources, vastly expanding the hunt for new drugs, and integrate its database with existing research caches. This partnership between blue-chip business and medicine offers a glimpse at how the biggest breakthroughs will be reached in the future — with the combined intelligence of man and machine.

Acceleration

More, better, faster — those are the buzzwords for the years ahead. It took considerably more than a decade to sequence the first human genome. Now it can be accomplished in a matter of hours for critically ill infants. At the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, a new genome sequence is generated every 12 minutes.

Outside the lab, communications technology is speeding up the time it takes to spread the word about research studies in need of patients. Recognizing that one of the biggest challenges in research is recruiting clinical trial participants, an experimental smartphone app developed by Dr. Peter Elkin, a biomedical informatics professor at the University at Buffalo, pairs interested patients with nearby trials whose area of study dovetails with their condition. Another approach scans electronic health records to track down patients who are eligible for cancer clinical trials.

Since patients rarely have the luxury of time, tech tools are increasingly going to be expected to streamline the process of who gets access to care and how.

Collaboration

With new technologies regularly coming online, and the increasingly rapid pace of business, it’s more important than ever that we collaborate productively – within our organizations and across them. Internally, collaboration means organizing to create focused, agile teams that can quickly tackle new problems and effectively cross-pollinate insights. Externally, it means working with a broad range of partners and forging unlikely allies.

In the media and communications sphere, for example, we have seen long-time “frenemies” like Comcast and Netflix join forces. In healthcare, I expect we’ll see more coalitions comprised of diverse voices as competitors choose to work together to enhance their value to consumers.

Patients as Innovators

The changing needs of the consumer have always been one of the major drivers of innovation. This is as true in healthcare as it is in any industry. The challenge has been to stay closely connected to what our customer —our patients—truly need, not what we think they need.

The rise of new data-gathering technologies in every industry is allowing companies to track customer needs and pivot around them as never before. The disruptive business models of much-publicized startups like Uber and AirBnB are set to expand beyond the hospitality industry and revolutionize other sectors.

In infrastructure, U.S.-based Pavegen has pioneered indoor floor tiles which use footsteps to generate both energy and data, which are then used to power and streamline interior environments. Pavegen has recently begun installing their tiles in outdoor locations, creating unprecedented potential efficiency gains in the management of public assets like traffic lights, power, and mass transit. Instead of imagining what city dwellers need, Pavegen—and other newly minted infrastructure managers like them—are in effect listening in a radical new way to what consumers actually want.

In healthcare, newly available patient data, analyzed by artificial intelligence, is allowing companies to listen more closely than ever before to what patients need. Digital, interactive versions of older diagnostic tests are allowing for quicker diagnosis and treatment, especially in crucial areas such as neurodegenerative disease. Soon, early treatment will no longer rely only on the vigilance of patients and doctors, but on the ecosystem of data, devices, and AI that help them work together.

Pfizer’s collaboration with IBM is just one example of this trend. IBM is helping us develop and deploy tools that have the potential to remotely monitor the progression of symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. Instead of solely relying on occasional, direct observation of patients during doctors visits, new technologies could allow us to observe and monitor changes in a patient’s movements and muscular rigidity, all important signs of disease state and how the patient is responding to treatment. This real-time analysis should give us unprecedented new insight into the disease itself.

By truly opening ourselves up to needs as expressed by all our patients, not just those who live with Parkinson’s, Pfizer Innovative Health is in effect accessing a rich new field of information that is capable of driving large-scale innovation.

Connected Improvement

Workplace teams are now more interdisciplinary and interconnected than ever before – by nature and necessity. As a result, effectively tackling complex problems – and retaining talent – hinges on creating systems of connected improvement. For managers, it isn’t enough to spot top talent, promote it and walk away. We also have to put systems in place that will ensure the whole organization chart effectively gets “promoted” too.

From partnering with online education platforms to trading stodgy annual reviews for ongoing app-based review program to investing in responsive on-the-job training, healthcare leaders are increasingly recognizing that optimizing how they cultivate talent plays just as major a role as which talent they focus on.

And as we adapt to an environment increasingly defined by all of these trends, talent will invariably be a key to success.

This article originally appeared here.

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