Standing room only

September 8, 2014By Future of Retail, Views

by Dave Wendland, as seen in Healthcare Distributor magazine, Out of the Box column

April/May 2014

One of life’s annoyances I have little patience for is the recorded message I receive when phoning a cable company or utility: "Due to unexpected call volumes, we are experiencing extended wait times. Your call is important to us and we appreciate your patience." Without any indication of how long this unplanned wait may take, it seems that it will never be my turn.

Many suspect that increased access to healthcare as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will dramatically affect waiting time throughout the healthcare industry (note: 25 million uninsured Americans are expected to get health coverage through the ACA by 2016, based on projections from the Congressional Budget Office). Already there have been reports that the time to see a primary care physician has already begun to increase, not to mention the likelihood that time spent with this healthcare professional will decrease during each visit.

By 2025, the U.S. is expected to have 14 percent fewer doctors than it will need to meet demand, a shortage that will assumedly be split equally among general practitioners and specialists, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. And while nurse practitioners and physician assistants may be able to lighten the load for primary care doctors, there’s no ready substitute for cardiologists or surgeons. It’s possible that Americans wishing to see a specialist may have to wait for months — something rather typical in other countries with some form of government-run healthcare.

Is there a cure for these woes? I imagine the future of healthcare relying much more heavily on technology. Electronic health records must become the standard. This should greatly improve the efficiency of providing care and the coordinated effort that will become necessary between health clinics, pharmacies, primary care physicians, specialists, and hospitals.

Another technological spoke in the healthcare wheel centers on telemedicine. It is feasible that non-emergency care and routine check-ins for chronic conditions will be more often administered from afar. This will broaden the reach of care and potentially alleviate the pressures on more of the traditional infrastructure.

Finally, omni-channel retail that provides improved access to health information and informed product selections when and where consumers want them is the first in a series of steps that will further empower Americans to better manage their own health and wellness.

The entire supply chain should begin working more closely together to reinvent the delivery of care. From manufacturers to distributors, retailers to pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, and ultimately to patients, everyone has a vested interest in streamlining the patient care model. Regardless of the ultimate impact of the ACA on the healthcare system, standing and waiting will not achieve the goal of fixing what is destined to break in the existing path to patient care.

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