April 19, 2007

Technological transformation is shaking up health care

  • Doctors still need their space, but it better be flexible
    Minor & James Medical


    Let me ask you a question.

    Did you know that the number of text messages sent each day is greater than the number of people on the planet?

    We talk, as we plan, about the changes in health care. These changes, as diverse and significant as they are, are merely reflections of the greater changes in the world around us. Health care, for all its technological savvy, is behind the curve.

    Health care, along with the rest of the market place, is being driven forward at breakneck speed. I doubt it is surprising to anyone anymore that today’s miracle technologies will most likely appear dated and awkward in very short years. The influences are diverse but the elements are familiar: technology, costs, benefit redesign, independent consumerism, market consolidation, informational environments, reimbursement reductions, nanobiology and genetic technology.

    More doctors, more space

    Things are changing and they are changing fast. The predictability of the marketplace is shifting with the influence of entrepreneurs. Who would have forecasted that cardiac surgeons would have trouble finding jobs today? Yet that is what we are faced with — new drugs and treatments that radically alter the health care environment overnight.

    The interesting thing is that these, despite surface appearances, are not revolutionary times for knowledge, such as the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. These are times of exponential change, change happening all around us.

    Did you know that 3,000 new books are published daily?

    Today, 100,000 people are moving to the Puget Sound and each one of them needs a doctor.

    What they will find is a group of men and women (increasingly women), who have augmented their primary care roles with ancillary services. Even with increased throughput of patients and more efficient profitability, more people require more doctors — and more doctors require more space.

    These rules haven’t changed, what doctors will do with the space they need has. Sleep labs, Wi-Fi access for patients, ambulatory surgery, imaging, electronic medical records and a host of other services that your doctor can and will offer to offset decreasing profit margins are the order of the day. The doctor as a competitive business person has become a reality.

    Growth and consolidation

    Health care is consolidating again, and it is being driven by the need for ancillary services and access to technology.

    Look at the Polyclinic merger with Seattle Primary Physicians, which added 21 primary care physicians. Look at the growth of area clinics — the Everett Clinic is at 240 physicians and Wenatchee is adding 20 to reach 200. We’ve acquired orthopedists, ear, nose and throat specialists and regrown our cardiology business. This diversity of high-tech services allows a growing organization to keep growing; we respond to the needs of our patients.

    Did you know that technology information, globally, is doubling every two years?

    The Puget Sound area is where California was 15 years ago. We are experiencing rapid growth, a healthy economy and expansion in health care. So the issue for you is, how much, how soon and at what cost. These are the same questions that we ask ourselves. We expect change.

    Adapting to change

    In the next five years we expect investment in tech, significant growth and new ways of delivering care that don’t exist today. The bottom line is to ask yourself how will technology displace the need for more buildings in the next 10 years, and how does one get “the edge” to differentiate smart buildings, maximizing needed flexibility for the ultimate user?

    Many people want to hang on to the familiar, but that won’t work. Perhaps Cortez had it right when he burned his ships. Accept that everything around you is changing and you can’t return to where you were in the past — change comes whether we like it or not.

    What we know is simple — the changes coming are beyond our ability to fully anticipate. We must be adaptable, and our support services and growth plans must embody this as well.

    Barbara J. Shaw is CEO of Minor and James Medical, a group of 75 physicians with offices in the Seattle-Bellevue market. The text was adapted from a “Changing Trends in Health Care” panel discussion at the March 27 meeting of the Society for Marketing Professional Services.

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