A futurist predicts what healthcare will look like in the late 2020s

Picture diagnostic booths with large screen 8K resolution, telemedicine tools, sensors tracking just about everything, and more.
By Tom Sullivan
12:12 PM
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Michael Rogers speaking at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum in Boston on Monday.

BOSTON — Picking a point out on the horizon, the late 2020s, Michael Rogers gave a glimpse of the changes coming to healthcare by that time.

“The American process is a pretty messy one sometimes,” Rogers said. “That is where the healthcare revolution is today, but we’re going to come up with something better.”

Rogers, a veteran journalist who recently concluded a two-year post as futurist-in-residence at the New York Times, delivered the opening keynote at the HIMSS Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum on Monday.

THE COMING IMPACT

“I suspect by then there will be some kind of massive vertical consolidation,” Rogers added, speculating that it could be along the lines of Amazon Health or CVS Wellness.

“Payers, providers, suppliers, pharmacies will all be under one corporate roof,” he said. “Patients won’t get health insurance anymore. They’ll subscribe and get unlimited virtual consultations via telemedicine, with wellness, fitness and nutrition information.”

Patients will not receive the majority of care in doctor’s offices or hospitals but, instead, in what Rogers described as factory-made diagnostic booths assembled in schools, drug stores and elsewhere.

Such booths will be loaded with smart sensors, 8K screens with resolution so high it appears a real person is there speaking with the patient and room for people to move around, exercise, as well as a variety of diagnostic devices.

“That will be your basic way of visiting the doctor,” Rogers said. When patients do go into a facility they will leave with a host of digital health tools and intelligent support, such as interacting with chatbots.

THE BIGGER TREND

To understand where healthcare is headed, Rogers added that it’s also important to glance back at history spanning the same number of years.

Approximately ten years ago, for instance, the first iPhone was in use, Facebook appeared to be losing in the social media world to MySpace, and the GPS available in cars for an extra $1,200 was inferior to what comes in phones today for free.

“The next 10 years are about the virtualization of the world. That has only just begun,” Rogers explained. “There’s a huge constituency of people — venture capitalists, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet — who all see this opportunity to create something new.”

The key is going to be the IT spine that runs throughout, and includes networks, connected data and artificial intelligence to produce quantified outcomes and maximized quality, he said.

Rogers acknowledged that there will be some large challenges in the decade ahead. Notably, like deciding what lives in the virtual world, what should sit in the real world and how to connect them.

Privacy and security present another obstacle, albeit one Rogers said is fixable.

“I think by the end of this decade we are going to have secure digital identities. If we simply have that it gives a lot more control over data,” Rogers said. “It will be a little like a state-issued ID: you don’t have to have one, but it helps a lot if you want to get on an airplane.” 

Another challenge will be what Rogers called “the de-skilling of the human side,” among the first generation of people to grow up texting and instant messaging. Wherein, even if all you do is reply with 'LOL' you still have a moment to think about it, which is something people don’t have in face-to-face conversation. 

“It’s not a flaw of the technology,” Rogers said. “Our education system has not caught up to the fact that empathetic communication is something we have to teach.”

And those skills will become even more important as Moore’s Law continues and processing power keeps getting faster and less expensive. Metcalfe’s Law, that the value of a network grows as a square of the number of people connected to it, demonstrates that network expansion is much like semiconductor growth, Rogers said.

“We cannot underestimate how connected we will be. There will be seamless handoffs between home, car, work,” he added. “At some point in mid-2020s, we have to decide when we tell kids what offline means. They’ll be more worried about losing internet access than electricity.”

Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com

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