At the Intersect (Series) – Spotlight on Healthcare

In our May post, we wrote that a disproportionate amount of innovation (and competition) is happening at the intersection of healthcare, financial services, retail and technology – a trend often referred to as “convergence.” In this post, we turn the spotlight on healthcare, where new business models have toppled the boundaries between traditionally separate players such as physician groups, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, consulting firms, patient groups, retail clinics and technology companies.

Behind this trend are two primary drivers: the promise of highly-personalized, quality care and the need for greater affordability. According to a July Wall Street Journal article by Eric Topol, the U.S. now spends annually more than $10,000 per capita on healthcare, with the biggest line items in the 2016 national healthcare budget being: $1 trillion for hospital care, $670 billion for doctor/clinician services and $360 billion for drugs.

Against this backdrop, examples of healthcare convergence abound. In late August, United Health’s Optum announced that it would acquire The Advisory Board’s health consulting business. Months earlier, Optum acquired a major surgical company (Surgical Care Affiliates), while competitor Aetna announced value-based agreements with Banner Health (2016) and Merck (2015). At the same time, the number of health plans sponsored by hospitals and physician groups jumped from 257 in 2015 to 272 in the current plan year.

As these changes occurred, advanced technologies have made it possible for caregivers, insurance companies and employers to understand and manage the health of large patient groups and to deliver quality care in non-hospital settings. Many of these innovations are being beta-tested by collaborations reminiscent of Silicon Valley incubators, like HealthXL.

The result has been dramatic changes in how, when and where patients access care – and how (and by whom) that care is managed and paid for. In the seven years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we’ve seen insurers acquire hospitals; hospitals become insurance companies; digital start-ups become pharmacies; pharmacies become providers; tech players enter the insurance market; and employers negotiate directly with Accountable Care Organizations for coverage.

As the boundaries continue to blur, the job of healthcare communicators is becoming exponentially more complex. There are new audiences to reach, new influencers to identify, new partnerships to forge, new regulations to monitor, new content to understand and new competitors to track.

In the past, there were relatively clear lines between the clinical and business sides of health. Now, those lines have converged. As my colleague, Michael Roth, points out in a recent O’Dwyer’s article: “[Previously], most healthcare/life sciences professionals had to be firmly entrenched in…core therapeutic areas like oncology, neurology and cardiology.” Today, communicators need this expertise plus “a deep and fundamental understanding of the business of health.”

That’s because in a post-ACA era, patient value is the name of the game. Success is rooted in outcomes, which depend on clinical excellence as well as on affordability, patient convenience and pre- and post-clinical support. In this new health economy, all lines converge around patient-centric care, creating new opportunities and imperatives for health communicators.

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Photo Credit: Peter Nguyen, Unsplash