Topics:   Corporate Governance,Corporate Social Responsibility,Risk Management

Topics:   Corporate Governance,Corporate Social Responsibility,Risk Management

August 8, 2019

The Future of Health Care

August 8, 2019

Ask Americans about the U.S. health-care system and, believe it or not, you will find a lot of agreement. According to a Gallup poll cited in a 2019 Fortune article, 70 percent of Americans say this system has “major problems” or is “in a state of crisis.” This sentiment dominated the most recent Democratic presidential debates, emerging as one of the primary issues of concern going into the 2020 election. NACD Texas TriCities tackled this issue during a recent chapter program in Houston where the high cost of health care was identified as one of the primary drivers of the present state of crisis in the industry.

According to Stephen Linder, a panelist for the program and professor of public health at the University of Texas, “America’s health care costs are rising, so it is either a result of increasing prices, increasing volume, or both. Because America is squarely in the middle in terms of utilization [volume] when compared to other countries, we can assume that the likely cause of the high cost of health care stems from factors regarding its price, and this assumption is supported by the fact that America pays the most for health care than any other country in the world.”

Health at A Glance 2017, a publication by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) comprised of 35 member countries including the United States, states data that substantiates this premise:

  • Health spending was 9 percent of gross domestic product on average among OECD member nations, ranging from 4.3 percent in Turkey to 17.2 percent in the United States.
  • Spending on health among OECD nations was about $4,000 per person on average (adjusted for purchasing powers) versus the United States, which spends almost $10,000 per person.
  • Conversely, life expectancy in the United States has been noticeably less at an average of 78.6 years versus the OECD Comparable Country average of 82.2 years.

Not only are we spending more for health care, we are living fewer years than half of the rest of the world. As unsettling as this might be, I believe that the future of the health care industry is on the brink of a tide of disruption that will lead to more affordable, more accessible, and better care. 

At the forefront of this disruption is Haven Healthcare, which was formed by, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. I also see promise in developing innovations in by other enterprising technology-based companies. Haven has been very selective in acquiring strategic health care assets that closely align with their founding companies’ collective objective of making health care more efficient.

It has been reported that Amazon is developing HIPAA-compliant skills for Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, and last year, Amazon Web Services unveiled a new natural language processing service called Comprehend Medical that pulls keywords and messages from electronic health records. More recently, JPMorgan acquired InstaMed, a health care technology company aimed at streamlining the payment process with a focus on innovation and customer experience.

According to one estimate cited by Deloitte, 95 percent of customer interactions will be driven by artificial intelligence (AI) within the next five years—and patients are indeed customers. It’s important to remember that a spectrum of AI tools will profoundly change and shape the future of health care for patients, including: the prolific use of robotic technologies in surgery and other areas of patient care; the increasing use of telehealth; immunotherapies; and genetic engineering. All of these advancement hold promise for a more efficient, higher quality, and more cost effective system of care in the coming years.

So, what is the role of boards of directors of health care organizations, as well as the broader extension of boards in general, in the successful transformation of health care in America? Higher health-care costs mean higher premiums, and higher premiums increase the likelihood of employees opting out of company health benefit program and joining the ranks of the uninsured. Uninsured employees impact company absenteeism, satisfaction, and productivity rates. A 2016 Kaiser report citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that absenteeism costs U.S. employers $1,685 per employee, per year. With these factors at play, the health status of the workforce should become a priority for boards and compensation committees, and companies should be looking at the example set by Haven and others looking to automate care and save on costs.

As the primary provider of health care benefits in the United States, companies and their boards should carefully consider the following ways to help accelerate the arrival of better—and less costly—care. 

  • Establish a set of health care status indicators for tracking and trending improvements in cost, access, and quality for your organization.
  • Identify portfolio investments in health-care-related technologies that advance the lowering of the cost of health care improvements.
  • Implement executive compensation arrangements that aggressively incentivize improvements in health care status of the organizations and employees that they lead.
  • Support legislative efforts that increase price transparency and empower consumers to make informed choices about their care.

The future of health care lies in an all hands-on deck, all-out effort to curb the cost of health care. It will take everyone in industry, government, and consumers at large working together to demand cost efficient, accessible, and high-quality health care. We are all the future of health care, and the directors of companies in particular have the power to shift the negative momentum of the present state of health care.

Darnell Dent is a board member of the NACD Texas TriCities Chapter and co-chair of the NACD Austin advisory board. He will speak on a panel about the future of health care at the 2019 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit.