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A lot can change over the course of ten years, especially in the world of healthcare. During the 2010s, the healthcare industry has evolved dramatically for both the medical community and patients alike. From technological advances and controversial policies to new epidemics fueled by corruption and provider shortages, here are six ways the healthcare industry has changed the face of medicine over the last decade. 

 

1. Healthcare Analytics 

 

The implementation of healthcare analytics over the last decade has provided monumental opportunities for improvement in healthcare by offering insights into hospital management, patient records and engagement, spending, diagnosis’, and more.

Under the umbrella of healthcare analytics comes the transition to Electronic Health Records, which have certainly overtaken paper records for the better. According to the American Hospital Association, by 2017, 95 percent of hospitals had adopted an EHR and 94 percent were using its data to improve patient care and organizational performance. 

Gone are the days of having to jump through hoops to get a patient’s medical records to follow them as they move between healthcare organizations. According to The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, today 80 percent of healthcare organizations can electronically query patient health information from external sources and more than half of all hospitals automatically notify primary care doctors when their patients are admitted to the emergency room: all thanks to healthcare analytics.

Healthcare analytics can lead to some stunning predictive uses too, such as the ability to estimate hospital admission rates for any given day and the ability to track, measure and analyze treatments in order to create better outcomes for patients. For example, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California used analytics to accurately predict neonatal infections based on the mother’s clinical history in order to avoid the potentially dangerous overuse of antibiotics in infants. 

 

2. Lower Death Rates

 

The last several decades have seen a decline in the overall number of general mortality rates and the most recent decade was no different. As a matter of fact, the U.S. reached an all time record low of 725 general deaths per 100,000 population in 2014. Although the number of general mortality rates were slightly higher in subsequent years, the numbers were still 16% lower than the year 2000, which saw 869 deaths per 100,000. 

Amenable mortality rates also saw a 17 percent decrease in 2013 as compared to 2003; and while this rate has also increased slightly in more recent years, it has stayed at 7 percent less than the number of amenable mortality rates in 2010. 

What’s the importance of these numbers? Although somewhat restricted by the availability of data, one method for measuring the quality of healthcare is done by looking at general and amenable mortality rates. Researchers suggest that these numbers indicate that the quality of healthcare has continued to improve within the last decade and we can only hope that the same will be true in the new decade ahead.

 

3. The Nurse Practitioner Role 

 

The number of primary care NPs over the last decade grew far more rapidly than that of physicians. According to the AANP, as of January 2019, it was estimated that there were more than 270,000 nurse practitioners licensed to practice in the US; a substantially higher number than the estimated 120,000 NPs in 2007. 

As evidenced by the estimated 1.06 billion patient visits made to NPs 2018, NPs are proving to be the providers of choice for millions of patients across the U.S. With provider shortages being a major concern for primary care, this combined with the continued growth of the NP role will hopefully fill these gaps in the decade to come. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the NP role will grow by 36% in 2026 as compared to an estimated 13 percent growth for physicians (excluding anesthesiologist and surgeons). 

 

4. The Opioid Epidemic 

 

Perhaps the country’s most significant public health issue in the last decade was the opioid crisis. In 2016, more Americans died from a drug overdose than in the Vietnam War, with three-fourths of the deaths being linked to opioids. Unfortunately, the epidemic peaked in 2017 with an estimated 72,000 opioid overdose deaths. Though disheartening, the astounding rates prompted healthcare organizations and federal agencies to finally declare war on opioids.

Thanks to countless efforts such as holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for their part and implementing systemwide opioid reduction initiatives, opioid overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1990, according to a report by the CDC. The 5 percent decline is a reason for hope but the war on opioids is far from being won and the epidemic will remain a problem for the 2020s. The country also faces extremely high overdose death rates stemming from fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.

 

5. The Affordable Care Act

 

Arguably the most notable change in healthcare policy since Medicaid and Medicare passed the 1965, the Affordable Care Act made significant changes to the healthcare industry, namely with a mandate for health insurance and Medicaid expansion. Since it was signed into law in March 2010, however, the ACA has faced a plethora of challenges including coming before the Supreme Court six times. Given its significant weakening over the last few years, the fate of the ACA in this new decade is uncertain; however, experts believe that certain popular aspects, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions, have become ingrained into insurance as we now know it and will likely stick around in future policies to come. 

 

6. Telemedicine

 

Telemedicine is not new to the medical community, nor is it even new at trying to improve rural health. In fact, medical uses of video communications in the U.S. dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s; some reviews even suggest it began as early as the 1940s. 

Over the last several years, billions of dollars from private and government-owned research firms were invested into telemedicine which has created far more technological advancements than providers can keep up with; and from 2012 to 2013, the telemedicine market grew by 60%. However, low reimbursement rates and interstate licensing and practicing issues have limited its widespread use. The hope is that in the 2020s, there will be parity with reimbursement rates for in office and virtual visits. As of 2018, more than 32 states had already passed internal laws to allow for such. 

Telemedicine evolved in the last decade with modern health technology like fitness wristbands and heart rate monitors, which were very big in the 2010s. Similar to earlier telemedicine equipment, these devices are smaller in size and have a greater scope of features. Patients have also come to expect virtual office visits for primary, urgent and specialty care, and there are a plethora of health apps that can now transmit information between a doctor and a patient, which we can expect more of in the years to come.

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