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Seeing With "New Eyes": The Future is What We Make It

March 21, 2019

Healthcare Futurist Joe Flower opened the #AMCCBS this morning with a quote that may be unexpected from a predictor of scenarios to come: “We don’t need new sights; we need new eyes.”

Rather than project a Jetsons-inspired vision of healthcare powered by AI and advanced robotics, Flower began by grounding attendees at the 45th ACCC Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit in the facts and figures of today’s healthcare environment. After a compelling examination of the state of patient care and the costs that care entails, Flower invited attendees to envision how we can discard what is broken in healthcare—and retain what works—to the benefit of the health and well-being of our patients.

Flower reminded his audience of the increasingly startling costs for U.S. healthcare delivery: a $3.9 trillion price tag in 2016, of which an estimated one-third is waste; common medical procedures with dramatically varying costs in the same metropolitan area; a system characterized by so much complexity that its workings are often a mystery to providers, payers, and patients.

“How did this happen?” mused Flower.

He traced the ills plaguing today’s system to the introduction of DRGs in the early 1980s, which codified healthcare costs in an effort to reign in expenses. Ironically, said Flowers, this gave the industry a manual for making more money by gaming the system with increasingly complex codes to maximize reimbursement.

After many false starts in attempting to change this system, said Flower, political and economic forces for payment reform are finally gaining real steam. And cancer care, Flower added, is leading the creation of multidisciplinary cost-conscious care models that result in better patient outcomes. “Medicine,” he said, “is increasingly being practiced as a team, and cancer care centers are ahead in this area.”

Cancer care teams have at their center the patient, who can no longer bear the ballooning costs of care. In a system in which the cost of care to patients has been maximized, Flower said that future breakthroughs in cancer care will more often be characterized by incremental, actionable medical advances rather than costly blockbuster treatments.

Flower predicted that in the current movement toward more accessible and affordable care, patients will use inexpensive tools to better communicate with their caregivers and be more active in their healthcare choices. And increasing numbers of alternative care sites will enable providers to undercut large industry players and better respond to the needs of local patients.

Key to making more efficient, less expensive models of care work, said Flower, is realizing true interoperability that is enabled by system-wide standardization of patient information. When patients can access the information currently available only to their providers and payers, said Flower, they will be empowered to demand the price transparency that will enable them to make cost-conscious healthcare decisions.

This consumer-directed care, Flower emphasized, will enable an advent of technology that is truly accessible and affordable. Healthcare will become more personalized, and personalized healthcare will become more affordable.

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