By Dr. Louis Levitt
In 2017, consumers saw healthcare costs increase 3.9 percent to $3.5 trillion, according to the most recent national health expenditure data from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The rising cost of healthcare is a genuine concern across the board – whether you are a patient, provider or payor.
To combat the ever-increasing cost of care, some of the nation’s largest corporations are reinventing the traditional model of care by developing patient-centric digital solutions, incentivizing lower-cost care and making strategic acquisitions. For example, Amazon Care was launched earlier this year to offer virtual care for the company’s employees. Microsoft and Humana came together with the goal to develop easily navigable healthcare platforms to improve care for Humana members using data, artificial intelligence and other digital solutions. Earlier this year, a federal judge approved CVS’s acquisition of Aetna. Collectively, they are aiming to provide more convenient care at a lower cost. Goldman Sachs and Mars offer in-office medical care for their employees, providing increased access to care right at their fingertips.
In all of these examples, the trend is quite similar – corporations are driving more efficient models of care at a lower cost, and I expect that similar solutions will become more prevalent as more players get involved in medicine. The question remains, though: how will corporate innovation impact physicians and patients?
A key focus here is efficiency. However, with efficiency may come impersonalization. When using models like urgent care clinics or visiting a rotating in-office physician, providers and patients will have to sacrifice their relationships in exchange for more swift and automated care. For those of us in private practice, our personal relationship with patients drives their loyalty. I hope physicians don’t lose sight of the coveted doctor-patient relationship as they compete with more efficient and easily accessible – but inconsistent – care.
According to The Pew Research Center, millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and they are putting high demands on the healthcare field. They expect cost transparency, convenience and an easily navigable digital experience. Corporations have been quick to embrace these demands as they influence the changing healthcare landscape. Walgreens and CVS offer retail clinics for preventative care and minor illnesses, giving millennials the ability to drop in at their convenience and receive care quickly. Another example: Alphabet, Google’s parent company, recently announced plans to buy Fitbit, which will enable the company to drive innovation in wearable technology and build on the user-friendly digital experience millennials are looking for when it comes to their health and well-being.
With these shifts in healthcare, we must raise the question: how will physicians maintain control of medicine as corporate America continues to influence the industry? As Vice President and an orthopaedic surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics (CAO), I am seeing firsthand how corporate investment in medicine is challenging physicians – particularly those of us in private practice – to provide more easily accessible and attractive care options at a lower cost. We are now using data to create and adhere to clinical pathways, which outline the highest-quality and lowest cost method of treatment yielding the best results for patients. These clinical pathways are meant to prevent frivolous spending, such as ordering extra tests or scans, or recommending more conservative treatment like physical therapy or injections before turning to a costly surgery.
My organization was driven to consolidate five years ago as a result of the industry’s focus on overall cost reduction as well as our desire to remain independent of a hospital system in an increasingly competitive and financially challenging environment. Consolidation has better positioned us to negotiate with payors and decrease the cost of care. And, as one of the nation’s largest orthopaedic private practice groups, we have the data resources to compete with corporations and invest in technologies that will benefit our patients. At CAO, we are constantly looking for new, innovative ways to leverage our data to improve outcomes, ultimately decreasing the cost of care and enabling us to provide higher quality, more efficient care.
In the wake of this power shift, physicians and private practices should use corporations as a model and look for opportunities to further improve patient care through tools like telemedicine and data integration. Through collaboration, we will all be better positioned to work towards our common goal – providing excellent care at a low cost, and I am excited for what lies ahead.
Dr. Louis Levitt is Vice President and Secretary for The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics.