Internet-enabled customer will radically change the face of health care industry by 2010

Cambridge 16 November 1999Consumerism, e-business and genetic mapping will bring about disruptive changes in the way health care is provided and paid for in the 21st century. This is stated in the report "HealthCast 2010: Smaller World, Bigger Expectations", issued by the professional services organisation PricewaterhouseCoopers. The survey, conducted by the company's health care division, questioned nearly 400 industry thought leaders from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia.


The people who were selected for the HealthCast 2010 interview included a mix of policy makers, hospital system top executives, employers, insurers, physicians, and medical supply vendors. The report represents an unusually candid account of future risks, but equally provides solutions and action steps for health care organisations entering the new millennium. The penetrating impact of the Internet is bound to recast distribution, financing, speed and production of traditional medical products and services, as well as create increased competition for capital investments.

Among the surveyed experts, 89 percent expressed their belief that Internet consulting services would reduce the number of real time patient visits to a general practitioner whereas 71 percent claimed to be convinced the Internet would force improvements in health care industry. "The Internet gives the advantage of speed over size and bureaucratic health care organisations could fail in this race to smaller, adaptive entrepreneurial ventures", as David Chin, M.D., principal-in-charge at Boston Health and Welfare Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, claims. Dr. Chin foresees new types of business models, such as virtual medical records warehousing or insurance products via the Internet.

In addition, general access to medical information on-line is bound to result in a better educated patient who in turn expects higher standards in disease prevention as to take responsibility for his own treatment and health. Some 35 percent of the United States selected HealthCast respondents anticipated that by 2010 individuals will prefer to store their electronic medical records on a source which is not part of the current health care system. Twenty-four percent of respondents figured that source to be an Internet portal site while 11 percent expected patients to use non-health care third-party businesses.

Another important way in which e-business will definitely change the health care system is interaction between providers and patients. For example, 89 percent of respondents predict that in-office visits will decrease if physicians routinely offer Web-based consulting tools. The reduction, which is estimated by 59 percent of respondents to be at 20 to 30 percent, will shift to attending to patients' needs via the Web. "The 2010 consumer demands speedy, customised health care and will frequently turn to the Internet or alternative intermediaries to sift through or even broker these needs", according to Sandy Lutz, author of the HealthCast 2010 report who continues that health care organisations, to prepare, will need to restructure and adopt retail-like branding, delivery efficiencies and incentive systems.

Perhaps the biggest change in the next decade will be the type of screening and diagnostic tests that stem from the completely mapped human genome. In the United States, third-party genetic mapping businesses will spring up and become the primary source for an individual's genetic map, according to 38 percent of the HealthCast 2010 United States respondents. Physicians ranked second behind those businesses as they were viewed by 36 percent as the primary source. In general, among the survey's findings there was a belief that hospitals and insurers are far from prepared for the coming surge in consumerism. Only 25 percent of the people surveyed by the HealthCast 2010 team thought hospitals were prepared and just 14 percent expected the insurers to be ready to deal with empowered consumers.

For more information on the aspects of future health insurance financing and standardisation, also focused by the authors of the HealthCast 2010 report, we refer to the VMW article Next health generation will witness convergence of financing systems and growing standardisation in this very same issue. For those who want to read the full report, please surf to "HealthCast 2010: Smaller World, Bigger Expectations".

Leslie Versweyveld

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