By Kim Bassett
As a hospital executive, I am both blessed and cursed with the responsibility to take a 20,000-foot view of the healthcare industry. It’s easy to get immersed in managing the details of a healthcare organization day-to-day, but these are some of the bigger questions about the future of healthcare that keep me up at night.
1. Who is going to care for our aging population?
Baby boomers are going to need healthcare, but there may be no one to take care of them. Boomers make up such a large proportion (76.4 million) of our population that things are becoming unbalanced very quickly. As Boomers age and require more and more medical care, the healthcare industry will struggle to find and keep a qualified workforce.
2. How are we going to pay for healthcare?
Everyone believes healthcare is a right, not a privilege. The business of healthcare is expensive. With the advancements in technology, the costs of healthcare continue to rise. These advancements result in strong competition among hospitals. Everyone wants to have the latest and greatest equipment. This equipment is incredibly expensive resulting in smaller hospitals being unable to compete with the larger hospitals. People with insurance or with money travel to the larger tertiary hospitals resulting in smaller, community hospitals providing a majority of their care to those with Medicaid or to patients that lack the ability to pay. How do we provide quality care to everyone when you have companies that provide healthcare to the wealthy, and others that are left to only provide care to the lower income?
3. Where have all the generic medications gone?
More and more drug companies are moving more toward making only the newer, more expensive medications to treat basic illnesses, discontinuing cheaper, but just as effective versions. While more profitable for them to do this, it leaves a gap in the medications that hospitals can offer at an affordable price to its patients.
4. Will everyone have access to quality affordable health insurance?
This is a question on a lot of minds lately as things continue to evolve at the legislative level. The ability for Americans to get affordable insurance is a very real concern. The insurance plans available may very well become too expensive for the average American family, leaving the ability to get quality health insurance only a reality for the wealthy. This has many implications for the poor and middle class Americans having to go without insurance or having insurance with incredibly high deductibles and co-pays. This leads to hospitals having to provide care for more and more patients that are underinsured.
5. How can we have physicians available 24/7?
It used to be that physicians made themselves available to patients around the clock. Our workforce has been evolving for many years and physicians coming out of school now are of the millennial mindset, looking for a work-life balance. They want to work normal 9-5 hours and have their weekends free for kids’ soccer and dance practices. While this is overall a great shift in workplace ideals, it can create situations where there are no doctors taking call at nights and on weekends when patients have the need for after hour care or emergencies. Where will hospitals find qualified, experienced physicians to care for our patients 24/7?
There are no easy solutions to these questions. It will take all of us, working together, focusing on our patients, to find solutions. If we do not find solutions, healthcare will become a privilege instead of the right of every person.