Predictions for Healthcare in 2012

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M. Sc., MPH

While the Mayans might have been good at developing a cosmic calendar with 27,000-year cycles, I will try to venture only one or two years out and predict some developments within the healthcare system.

I dare say the Mayans had great foresight about changes, even if they never invented the wheel, but clearly they missed the fact that 2012 was an election year in the United States, and that predicting change became no mean task with orders of magnitude of difficulty. Nonetheless, I will attempt to gaze into my crystal ball and give my predictions for the next little while.

The promise of personalized medicine has been swirling around in the minds of brilliant people for well over a decade now, but we are patiently awaiting the results to impact our daily lives. Throughout the past 10-15 years, advances in the personalized medicine field have been somewhat slow to appear on the landscape. We should not be too discouraged by this advancing timeline, since we are still waiting for a cure for cancer after many decades of highly-funded research. Yet, each day, scientists are discovering more and more biomarkers with the potential to move us closer the reality of personalized medicine.

These biomarkers are not only predicting diseases—they are identifying companion diagnostics, indicating response levels to therapeutics, and suggesting the prognoses of disease management efforts. While I certainly do not predict that there will be incredible breakthroughs in predictive medicine in 2012, I do believe that there will be acceleration within this field, and that more research companies will routinely incorporate elements of personalized medicine in their research and development.

I also believe that public health and medicine will become more tightly juxtaposed through personalized medicine; since, ultimately, personalized medicine is about both populations and the individual. No, these are no longer mutually exclusive terms. The N=1 world of medicine and the N=total populations world of public health will find common ground in the use of biomarkers to predict and manage disease states at any level. When patients show up at their physicians’ offices wanting to know if a certain drug will be ideally suited to them given their genetic makeup, then we will know that personalized medicine is here to stay. So, I predict that 2012 and beyond will lead to some of the greatest changes we will see in managing health and wellness across the globe.

We are all hoping that a new election (and a new Mayan cycle, for that matter) will bring about greater economic prosperity for all of us. To be sure, the world is in a huge economic mess right now, and I am not sure a Republican or a Democratic President in the U.S. will make a significant difference in bringing about global economic stability. However, it should be obvious to the lawmakers on Capitol Hill that our healthcare system is in dire need of a major overhaul.

I would expect that the new agenda for an incoming president, after fixing the economy and getting more people back to work, would be to address the healthcare system. To that end, I am less apt to look to our elected officials to “fix the healthcare problem,” while I am looking more those directly involved in the industry to make some wholesale changes.

As electronic medical records become more ubiquitous throughout the healthcare delivery system, our ability to gain greater efficiencies will contribute to cost savings and better care for all. So, I predict 2012 will bring about more accountability for healthcare spending without sacrificing the quality of care. The accountable care organizations were, I believe, originally started as a marketing initiative to recover lost ground by healthcare professionals, but as these organizations evolve and improve their balance between cost and care, we should see a meaningful impact from responsible medicine.

There are many other changes we can expect to see in 2012 and beyond, provided the Mayans were not completely accurate in predicting the demise of civilization as we know it, but, for now, keep your eyes on personalized medicine and accountable care organizations.

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