You won’t believe what happens next for healthcare

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2017 was a year of mega-mergers in healthcare as providers and payers alike seek economies of scale, often by joining forces, on the journey toward value-based care. This patient-centric model of quality over quantity creates more risk, and responsibility, causing health systems of all sizes and geographies to reevaluate their delivery of care model, build efficiencies and hopefully gain a leg up on the competition.

With downward cost pressures and such a huge emphasis on results, the healthcare of tomorrow is going to look a whole lot different from today’s hospitals and doctors’ offices. In fact, the tech-forward, community-first evolution has already started.

Telehealth: A Skype date with doc

Imagine you’re in a rural community miles from the nearest hospital, or you’re just across the street from one but are challenged by limited mobility. Telehealth leverages technology so patients can seek treatment without ever leaving the house, significantly reducing costs for the health system while shielding vulnerable patients from healthcare-associated infections.

At the $54-million Mercy Virtual Care Center in St. Louis, a nearly 200-year-old health system is pioneering the idea of a “hospital without beds.” With regular virtual visits and remote health data monitoring technology, Mercy can observe even the most critical patients with an even closer eye, learning individual baselines and gaining the ability to distinguish true emergencies from issues that could be solved by changing medications. It’s already reducing readmission rates, improving outcomes and changing the way we think about house calls.

Micro hospitals: Going small to get you back on your feet sooner

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We’ve known for some time that hospitals are shrinking, but recently health systems have made “small” a proactive approach, opening micro hospitals, some just eight beds and 17,000 square feet, in fast-growing neighborhoods where the data indicates a need. While less surgical-focused, these facilities can tailor services to their specific communities, whether it’s setting broken bones or monitoring heart disease.

Central Indiana has seen about a half dozen micro hospitals crop up in the last year, a calculated move to give communities a choice between urgent care and the emergency room. St. Vincent Health calls them neighborhood hospitals, with the goal of reducing overhead, wait times and hospital stays. It’s also an opportunity for health systems to build their brand across the full continuum of care, creating loyalty through specialized treatment.

Medical tourism: Winning with public-private partnerships

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Only select, high-profile health systems (Mayo, Hopkins, Cleveland, etc.) across the country can attract visitors from celebrities to crown princes, and the communities they operate in are starting to gain a more holistic understanding of the economic benefits—job creation, local business growth and funding for improvements to a city’s infrastructure.

Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic, is undertaking the largest public-private economic development initiative in Minnesota’s history—the 20-year, $5.6 billion creation of Destination Medical Center (DMC), a global destination for health and healing. This comprehensive, city-wide upgrade related to education, biotech, pharma, hospitality, culture, transit, recreation and more will prove complementary to Mayo’s new facilities. It also makes Mayo well-positioned to capture an increased amount of international patient demand, a market valued above $100 billion.

Healthcare, mobilized: From gas stations to ships

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Whether you’re focused on acute illnesses or prevention, sometimes you have to meet people where they are, literally. Take gas stations. They’re omnipresent, easily accessible and their future is in jeopardy as electric car usage grows. Reebok and architecture firm Gensler have teamed up to propose the idea of roadside “fitness hubs,” converted gas stations of all sizes that offer fitness classes, recharging opportunities like meditation and local health food. Call it the democratization of wellness, just one highway exit away.

Farther afield, 40-year-old Mercy Ships continues to improve the efficacy and impact of floating hospitals, ships equipped to deliver free healthcare to African populations with limited access to quality medical care. Ships are outfitted with everything from operating rooms to pharmacy services. Thanks to a recent $50 million donation, the latest addition to the fleet could launch late next year.

This is just the beginning of healthcare’s shift from the campus to the community, allowing health systems to rightsize their footprints and reallocate dollars to their core business of healing. The rise of large-scale, payer-providers is laying the groundwork for healthcare models yet to be seen, and the most successful will offer patients convenience, flexibility, cost savings and their best quality of life.