If 2013 was all about preparing for the launch of the health-care exchanges, the new year will undoubtedly be about navigating them. But the health reform isn’t the only change coming to the industry in 2014. From increased access to health information to technology playing a larger role in your health, here’s a look at trends consumers will likely see next year.
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The advent of high-deductible health insurance plans means consumers are responsible for more of the health-care costs making it in their best interest to stay healthy and up to speed on their treatment option to make the best care choices.
“Regardless of where you get your health insurance from, there will be more of a focus on helping people improve their health and giving them more information,” says Amy Bergner, managing director, health care and benefits, at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She says consumers will have more access to information about different services and treatments, including cost, effectiveness and evaluations of different doctors and hospitals.
Berger also says companies and health insurance providers will place a greater emphasis on wellness programs and tying incentives to stopping certain unhealthy behaviors like smoking. “There will be more incentives toward healthy behaviors and more programs available to help people.”
Pain Medicine Management
Addiction to pain medication is a major epidemic plaguing the U.S., a trend professionals are hoping to reverse in 2014. According to survey conducted by the Institute of Addiction Medicine, more than two million Americans are opioid dependent. What’s more, about 4.7 million teenagers and adults say they’ve used opioid prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes and around 32.7 million Americans report having used opioid prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes at least once in their lives.
“Opioids are frequently prescribed for post-surgical pain management, but a real risk exists for patients to develop dependence and addiction,” says Theresa Bowling, vice chairman, department of Anesthesiology at The Stamford Hospital. “Many hospitals are implementing narcotic reduction programs that use alternatives to opioids for post-surgical pain management.”
According to Bowling, patients should expect to see hospitals increasingly embrace alternatives to pain management. One option patients may see more of is what Bowling describes as “continuous nerve blocking” that numbs an affected area by delivering a continuous, regulated flow of a non-narcotic, local anesthetic through a catheter near the nerves that transmit pain from the surgical incision site.
“Portable and disposable delivery systems allow patients the option of recovering from their surgery in the comfort of their home without using potent narcotics for pain management,” she says. “Other benefits of avoiding narcotics in the management of post-surgical pain are eliminating the side effects associated with narcotics including nausea and vomiting, sedation, and itchiness.”
Overworked Doctors face burnout
The Affordable Care Act is designed to bring thousands of new patients into the health-care world, which could be taxing to physicians. As a result, Tom Doerr director of innovation research for Lumeris, a technology and consulting services provider for health systems, says there will be an increased risk of physician burnout in 2014.
“Research continuously shows primary-care physicians are more dissatisfied with their careers than ever,” says Doerr, noting that the structure and incentives of today’s health system aren’t aligned to engage and respond to the needs of the doctors.
Telehealth Goes Mainstream
Technology plays a role in pretty much every aspect of our lives, and our health is no exception.
According to Roy Schoenberg, chief executive of telehealth technology company American Well, 2014 will have more doctors using technology to follow up with their patients. He says doctors’ realization that telehealth offers a low-cost and convenient way to stay on top of their patients will spur the increased use of telehealth.
But it won’t stop with the doctors. Even non-medical companies will embrace telehealth to market to customers. “Retailers [supermarkets, pharmacies, hotel chains] will offer their visitors onsite access to medical services using a combination of onsite nurses and telehealth-based physicians,” he says. “These services will anchor initiatives that help retailers partner with their consumers towards leading and consuming products associated with healthier lifestyles.”