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The top 5 predictions about the future of health from leaders in the space

May 13, 2022, 5:50 PM UTC

Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Marina del Rey, Calif., this week had riveting insights on current health care trends.

Leaders from IBM Watson Health, Apple, Salesforce, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and more also gave some predictions for the future.

Here’s what consumers and providers can look forward to as the health care industry evolves:

Leveraging data will provide better care

Patient-centered care, which is defined as customized care that improves individualized health outcomes, is proven to provide better results and yields higher satisfaction from patients. Individualized care takes a patient’s personal health history and life circumstances into account when giving medical recommendations and diagnoses, which is what makes it so valuable. Now, patient-centered care is going to become increasingly standardized due to advancements in health technology. 

“COVID was really an accelerant for the adoption of analytics and how important data is,” said Hilary Kerner, chief marketing officer of IBM A.I. and Watson Health. “We saw a lot of organizations use the pandemic as a catalyst for innovation.”

One such company making headway in using data to promote personalized care is Project Ronin, which is a clinical decision support system that converts massive amounts of clinical data, patient reported data, and reference data into understandable insights about treatment decisions, dosing, and other medical interventions, according to David Hodgson, the cofounder and CEO of Project Ronin.

Hodgson is not alone in his desire to elevate the patient experience in the health care industry. His sentiment was echoed by Jessica Mega, cofounder and CMO of Verily, a life science research organization that centers on disease prevention and protection.

“User-centric design in health care is a must,” Mega said during the Brainstorm Health event. “I’ve been blown away by how empowered people have felt when the data is relevant to them. And you heard us talk today about research, and how it translates into clinical care. It’s another area that we’ve been working on. We look at things like continuous glucose and the minute you show someone, here’s how your body responds to oatmeal or popcorn, it becomes incredibly relevant.” 

While data can help bridge gaps in health care, a focus on relationships is essential for success, said Dr. Fatima Paruk, senior vice president and chief health officer at Salesforce.

“In health care, nothing replaces trusted relationships. Technology is a great enabler, but ultimately people take care of people,” Paruk told Fortune.

Health care will become more equitable

Because of systemic racism in the United States, certain racial demographics are more likely to suffer from health disparities such as higher rates of chronic diseases and lower life expectancies. Health disparities are both unjust and incredibly costly, amounting to about $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity annually, per the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

Health disparities are especially poor in America when it comes to behavioral health care, with racial and sexual minorities often suffering from dismal mental health due to discrimination and the inaccessibility of high-quality mental health care services. In the summer of 2020, more than one-quarter of young adults had contemplated suicide within the past 30 days, citing a CDC study. Suicide rates are rising, particularly in the Black community, and with equity in mind, CVS Health is rolling out services to meet the increased mental health demands of their consumers. 

“81% of Americans are saying that they have depression or anxiety,” Karen Lynch, the CEO of CVS Health, said at the Brainstorm event. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States. And what’s happening right now is the youth of America are really struggling from the experiences that they’ve had in isolation, and we’re seeing a 40% increase in attempts of suicide from children from 10 to 24 years old.”

Telemedicine is a proven way to reduce suicidal ideations and behavior in patients with mental health disorders. CVS Health is improving the accessibility of telehealth services to reach the people who truly need them, according to Lynch, who thinks health care in the future will be digital. 

“So as a company, again, its access to health care, what are we doing about it?” Lynch said. “We’re doing a number of things. We’ve put social workers in our Health HUBs so that people can have access face-to-face or through virtual care. We’ve continued to have an extension of our contracts with tele-virtual mental health services. And we saw in our Aetna population pre-pandemic, 8,000 mental health visits virtually. Post-pandemic, it’s 18 million. So you can see the dramatic increase in people feeling much more comfortable with virtual mental health and obviously, a huge rising demand.”

Employees have power like never before and benefits are changing

Approximately, one in eight couples—or over 7 million Americans—have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. As the war for talent rages on, fertility benefits are becoming more commonplace in an effort to attract top-tier employees. As of 2020, almost half of large U.S. employers—42%—offered coverage for IVF treatment, while almost one-fifth—19%—offered egg freezing, per CNBC

“And even if you’re not a consumer of fertility services, just the statement that you’re making by actually having that as part of your benefits is just critical to being able to compete in the marketplace,” TJ Farnsworth, the founder and CEO of Inception Fertility, said at the Brainstorm Health Conference. 

Almost half of workers—45%—say fertility benefits are an important factor when considering a new job, according to a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of Fortune in February.  

In addition to fertility benefits, workers are increasingly demanding competitive salaries from their employers. In light of recent inflation, 40% of U.S. workers expect pay increases of greater than 6% this year, citing the Society for Human Resource Management. In addition, over three-quarters—77%—of employers cited dissatisfaction with pay or the ability to get a higher salary at another company as a top five reason for employee turnover, per the Mercer Real-Time Insights Survey.

The key to lowering attrition rates and raising the contentment rate of employees is paying good wages, according to Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, who says the company has hired 15,000 new workers in the past 15 months. Instead of following the industry practice of only paying flight attendants once all passengers are seated and the plane doors have shut, Delta is rolling out a new policy in which flight attendants get paid for boarding time, starting in June. Other than becoming the first major airline to compensate air hostesses for boarding time, Delta also has made history by giving employees a record setting $1.6 billion in bonuses in 2020, which amounted to about two months’ pay.  

“We’ve always paid good wages,” Bastian said at the Brainstorm Health event. “The brand is really strong and so it’s a highly desired brand to work for. And this is somewhat of a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to get inside Delta, and then start to build your career. And we have people from all walks of life joining us.”

Mental health has become part of the conversation

While the purpose of the vaccine giant, Pfizer, is to create breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, according to Payal Sahni Becher, the company’s executive vice president and chief people experience officer, it was equally important to maintain the mental health and resilience of her employees. 

From chronic exposure to job stress, health care workers have been experiencing higher rates of burnout during the pandemic. In fact, one in three physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time, citing the Local and Regional Anesthesia, a peer-reviewed health journal. And nearly half—48%—of U.S. doctors reported burnout in 2020, with more than 25% having high stress and anxiety levels, per the American Medical Association. Within the vaccine industry, respondents painted an even bleaker picture, with 76% of scientists confirming that the pandemic had impacted their well-being, and 30% saying the impact was “severe,” according to Science. 

Sahni Becher suggests the key to balancing company advancement with appropriate mental health care for employees is crafting an internal culture that encourages both happiness and productivity.

“You could see the strain that they [employees] were carrying—the fears that they had also for their own self, their own families, probably the losses that they had prior to when the vaccine went out,” Sahni Becher said at the Brainstorm Health event. “We sort of had to force people to take a breath. And so you know, partnership with Thrive Global was really critical for us. And our colleagues just loved it. They said ‘thanks for actually focusing on us in a way that was much more proactive.’ When you’re at a point where mentally you’re exhausted, you’re stressed, you don’t even know where to go, you need to have people come to you, and so that’s what we ended up doing.”

Wearables will change the health care industry

Biometric medical devices, which include glucose scanners, palm vein readers, and fitness trackers, are becoming more normalized in American society. Over half of broadband households—55%—owned a biometric health or fitness device in 2021, citing the Parks Associates Q2 2021 survey. And at least 84 million people will use health and fitness apps in 2022 to monitor their health, as reported by Business Insider. Whether it’s a Fitbit or an Apple watch or another health tracker, wearable medical devices can improve patient care by promoting healthy behaviors that reduce hospital visits.  

“We’ve begun seeing this convergence of health tech and digital tech over the last 10 years, and it’s been accelerated, definitely, during the pandemic,” Robert Ford, the chairman and CEO of Abbott Laboratories, a multinational medical device company, said at the Brainstorm Health conference. “And we believe this is the next frontier and we want to lead in it, and we think it has tremendous potential across all of our businesses to really challenge the paradigm of health care.”

Medical devices bring more democratic power to patients and create a shared language between individuals and doctors, which leads to better health outcomes, according to Ford. The future of health care could certainly be wearable. 

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