2015 proved to be an exciting, albeit tumultuous year for the health sector. Doctors adopted new digital technologies with mixed success, , millions more people gained some form of health insurance, and scientists developed more precise ways to treat disease using breakthrough gene-editing techniques.
Fast Company reached out to more than two dozen health experts for their suggestions of how health care will be transformed in 2016, particularly for patients and doctors. Here are their top five predictions:
Hank Greely, Director, Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University, expects to see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, approve its first human gene therapy in the coming year (perhaps). "That's a pretty big deal," he said. "People have been working on this for 35 years."
And that's not the only reason scientists are excited about gene-editing. In recent years, a breakthrough technique called Crispr-Cas9 looks set to make it easier and cheaper to edit the human genome. Greely expects to see clinical uses of gene therapy hit the market in the next five years, with an initial focus on treating eye disease and blood diseases.
Most of us like to think of our doctors as super humans who don't feel tired, anxious and unable to cope. But a report published earlier this year found that 46 percent of all physicians had experienced burnout, a substantial increase from 2013. What's driving this trend? For starters, doctors are still perpetually sleep deprived and overworked. Salaries haven't kept pace with expectations, particularly for primary care doctors, and they spend too little time with patients (the average is eight minutes)
And technology isn't helping: In many cases, doctors are spending more time inputting fields on poorly-designed, unwieldy electronic medical records than talking to a patient. Bob Wachter, interim chairman of the Department of Medicine at UCSF, hopes that this issue will come to a head in 2016, likely with hospitals and providers demanding more from their medical record vendors or opting for a more modern alternative. Other experts, like former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra, believe we'll see startups developing physician-facing apps on top of the medical records, which might be able to take on some of the heavy lifting so physicians' time is freed up.
The best-known Silicon Valley wearables companies are focused on wellness, whether that involves nudging people to walk more frequently or sleep for longer. But a new generation of wearable technologies are taking a different tack by seeking regularly approval.
With a green light from FDA, these wearables might prove to be less cost-effective and highly-effective therapies for the chronically ill. One promising example is a wearable from Chrono Therapeutics that contains a battery and a preloaded cartridge with a day’s supply of nicotine. Unlike a standard patch, Chrono's system learns over time when a smoker is most likely to reach for a cigarette — and it releases nicotine proactively. The device is expected to receive FDA approval in the next year or two.
In Silicon Valley, digital health startups are often faced with the question: Who's footing the bill? Increasingly, it's the benefits manager who is obsessively looking for ways to manage employees' spiraling health care costs. In 2016, we'll likely see more employers encouraging their workers to use telemedicine tools, which are far cheaper than heading straight to urgent care, as well as take an active role in mental health; scheduling vaccines and other preventative care services in-office; and requiring second opinions before employees opt for a high-cost procedure.
We predict that 2016 will be the year of the patient. This year, Silicon Valley's technology behemoths, including Google and Apple, have shifted their ample resources to helping consumers collect their health data from various apps and devices — and present it to their doctor. A handful of hospitals are finding some important uses for this patient-generated health data, including monitoring patients with Type 1 diabetes while they're at home.
Moreover, patients will have access to an increasing deluge of data to help them make medical decisions, such as their surgeons' complication rates.
Health-focused venture capitalists Bob Kocher and Bryan Roberts proposed in a recent article that the feds will finally wake up to the risks of hospital mergers. When hospitals in an area consolidate, this gives them leverage to drive up health care costs by demanding higher reimbursements from insurers with no real quality gains. In the past decade, there has been a surge in the number of hospital consolidations.