Top Ten Trends for Healthcare & Wellness in 2012

The Wall Street Journal recently published their annual “CEO Council” edition, where industry experts and members of the WSJ CEO Council addressed many of the challenges facing our country and world, including the global economy, international relations, energy resources, and of course, healthcare. Among the healthcare topics discussed, the top-two recommendations for improving our healthcare system were 1) prevention and awareness of chronic diseases; and 2) the advancement and importance of healthcare technology.

This article, among many others, got me thinking about what 2012 holds for our industry. Throughout this past year familiar themes rang clear, giving us insights to what will play vital roles for healthcare in our future. Below are my top ten for 2012:

1) Technology Will Lead the Way: No doubt that technology will pave a way for a better overall healthcare system, providing a more efficient and effective experience between consumers, healthcare providers, insurers, and healthcare and wellness businesses. The primary concern, of course, will be the sharing and exchange of data for cost-cutting and efficiency purposes. But technology will also propel consumers to have more engaged and interactive experiences with not only their doctors/providers but healthcare brands and advertisers. Look for mobile, digital and cloud-based technologies to rise. (Note: Technology plays a role in every trend listed below.)

2) Awareness & Prevention Will Have a Renewed Focus: A renewed focused on awareness and prevention will be a priority in 2012, as chronic diseases account for many of our healthcare issues and costs. Businesses and organizations from employers to insurers to retailers will institute health and wellness programs to encourage better health and prevention. It’s a tried and true formula, but awareness and prevention are probably the best frontline defense against poor health and cutting unnecessary costs across the board.

3) The Empowered Consumer Continues to Rise: The ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘self-service’ trend among consumers will continue in 2012. And technology plays a large role here. Research shows that 80% of U.S. Internet users claim to have used the web to search for health-related information and answers. And that is just search. Many platforms from interactive healthcare kiosks to social media to personalized health sites are allowing consumers to empower themselves. As consumers increasingly turn to self-service technologies and channels, the entire healthcare industry has a tremendous opportunity to reach, engage and interactive with today’s empowered consumer. And that will yield some powerful results from consumers to doctors to advertisers.

4) Retail Plays an Increased Role: From pharmacies to in-store clinics and healthcare kiosks, retail establishments from Walgreens to Walmart to Publix will play vital roles to connect with consumers for better healthcare access, awareness and treatments. Consumers are still frequenting brick-n-mortar stores; connecting with them while they are there offers great opportunities for healthcare providers, advertisers and the retail locations.

5) Digital, Social & Mobile a Priority: In another nod to technology, but one worth its own section, digital, social and mobile technologies will play a major role in 2012 and beyond. Increasingly, consumers, healthcare providers, and health and wellness businesses are turning to digital and social communities to connect, learn and engage. And with the projected rise of mobile growth, specifically smart phones, look for mobile to become a rising and preferred communication device. There is great opportunity for healthcare professionals, retailers and advertisers to develop innovative strategies to reach and engage with consumers when they are on the go. This opens tremendous opportunities for the entire health ecosystem.

6) Open Data Access Continues: The days of “closed” data in healthcare are quickly dwindling. The open access of healthcare data (of course respecting privacy) will be more prevalent. Take, for example, Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Although still in its infancy, and a monumental task to replace the current system, it will become a standard process that will greatly improve the coordination of consumer’s healthcare data, reduce errors and lower costs. The days of mailing, faxing and passing along a paper trail of data will become digital.

7) The Line Between Healthcare Insurers & Providers Continues to Blur: The merger and partnership of insurers and hospital operators crosses a traditional healthcare divide. But look for this trend to continue as the industry restructures and overhauls healthcare operations to cut costs and make way for better efficiencies.

8) Increased Government Involvement & Focus: The Obama Administration-backed healthcare reform bill, passed last year, has been under tight scrutiny since it appeared. And it heads to the Supreme Court in March 2012 to determine if it is “constitutional.” Right in the middle of the heated election season. Look for government organizations and politicans to make healthcare a chief focal point for the political season and beyond. The government will definitely play a role in our future healthcare. Only time—and the nine-member court—will tell to what extent and level.

9) Cost Transparency: Another byproduct of today’s broken, over-budget healthcare system, coupled with today’s empowered and engaged consumer, is that healthcare costs will be more transparent. No more cloak of confusion and secrecy over charges and why. You’ll see a more simplified and transparent cost and services breakdown, across the entire healthcare system.

10) 2012 Will Be a Major Breakthrough Year for Healthcare: Call me optimistic, but for all the reasons listed above, albeit # 8 is a wildcard, we’ll look back on 2012 as the year we made incredible strides towards a healthier, more economical and efficient American healthcare system. We won’t solve all the problems in a mere year, but 2012 will be a watershed moment for the betterment of our healthcare system, especially if we all continue to push it forward.

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