The U.S. health care system will continue to evolve during 2017, with new technologies and programs helping make care more efficient and accessible for more Americans. Here are five health care trends to monitor during the coming year.
Fitness Trackers: The wearable-technology market is booming; the industry’s value is expected to reach $31.2 billion by the end of 2020, according to a recent research report. This is good news for consumers, as wearable devices enable people to track their daily steps, monitor their heart rates and analyze sleep patterns. Some employers and health plans, such as UnitedHealthcare Motion™, are including fitness trackers as part of wellness programs, enabling some employees to earn up to $1,500 per year in incentives by meeting specific daily walking goals. Employers are expected to incorporate more than 13 million wearable and fitness tracking devices into their wellness programs by 2018, according to technology consultancy Endeavors Partners. A related study published in Science & Medicine showed people tend to overestimate how much exercise they get each week by more than 50 minutes, and they underestimate sedentary time by more than two hours, underscoring the importance of a wellness program like UnitedHealthcare Motion.
Workplace Wellness: Besides fitness trackers, some employers offer other wellness incentives, which can include gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, and discounts on gym memberships. An estimated 70 percent of employers already offer wellness programs and 8 percent more plan to do so during the next year, according to a 2016 study from the Society for Human Resource Management. The value of corporate wellness incentives has increased to $693 per employee, up from $430 five years ago, according to a recent study from the National Business Group on Health. However, the study found that fewer than half of eligible employees earned the full incentive, with workers leaving millions of dollars of unclaimed rewards.
Comparison Shopping: The internet has transformed how people purchase goods and services, and it is doing the same for health care. Some new online and mobile services enable people to comparison shop for health care based on quality and cost. The Health4Me app, available on iPhone and Android devices, enables users to identify nearby health care providers and facilities, as well as compare quality and estimated cost information for more than 850 common medical services. With a growing number of Americans now enrolled in consumer-directed health plans, more people are using online and mobile health care transparency resources. More people (32 percent) are using websites and mobile apps to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to the recent UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey.
Get Care Anywhere: New mobile apps now enable people to meet with a primary care physician and specialist to obtain medical care, with the goal of providing convenience and more affordable care. The cost of a video-based virtual visit is usually less than $50 and may provide significant savings when compared to costs for similar minor medical needs treated at a doctor’s office (approximately $80), urgent care facility (approximately $160) or emergency room (approximately $650), according to UnitedHealthcare claims data. Recent advances in audio and video technology is enabling people to obtain a diagnosis and necessary prescriptions for minor medical needs including allergies, sinus and bladder infections, bronchitis and other conditions.
Value-based Care: Employers and health plans are increasingly using Value-based Care arrangements, a shift away from the common fee-for-service structure in which a care provider is paid separately for each treatment, appointment or test during a treatment plan, generating multiple claims within a single, broader episode of care. Under Value-based Care arrangements, the health care providers that employees use are paid for achieving certain quality outcomes and demonstrating that they’re improving people’s health, rather than getting paid solely for the number of services they provide to patients. In other words, they’re paid for value over volume. For instance, a new UnitedHealthcare program with health care facilities nationwide is using a type of Value-based Care arrangements (bundled payments) for knee, hip and spine procedures, and participating employers have recorded an average savings of $10,000 or more per operation when compared with median costs in the same metropolitan area. Meanwhile, employees having the surgery may save $1,000 in lower out-of-pocket costs when accessing an in-network facility that accepts bundled payments.
Dave Allazetta is CEO for UnitedHealthcare of Arizona.