Dispatches from the future


    What will U.S. health care look like in the next decade? Will AI be the dominant diagnostic tool? Are targeted gene therapies finally going to revolutionize cancer care on a large scale? Will the transition to value-based payment models be complete?

    We at Advisory Board recently received series of dispatches from an unnamed health care leader, writing to us from the year 2030. (Oddly enough, they were sent via fax machine, because some things never change). Thanks to these messages, we’ve been able to glean a lot of insight into the future.

    What did we learn? The questions above aren’t necessarily the ones that our transtemporal pen pal thinks we should be asking. That’s not to say such questions are unimportant or uninteresting; the opposite is true. But alone, the discussions they engender are incomplete. They focus too much on how the future of health care will be determined from within the health care system itself. As the dispatches from the future make clear, broader societal shifts will have significant impacts on the opportunities and challenges in front of all of us. Rather than providing an interior examination of changes within the health care system, the messages we’ve received describe the ways large-scale external forces are poised to reshape the very contours of our industry.

    We believe it’s our responsibility to share what we’ve received, without edits or redactions, so we can engage in a conversation about whether these dispatches describe a future we ultimately desire. We feel that we’ve been sent these dispatches not simply as advanced notice of various inevitabilities, but rather as an invitation to make changes now, as we see fit.

    We’ll publish the dispatches here across 2021. You’ll find that they are organized around the effects of demographic shifts, technological advancement, and ecological change on health care across the next decade. Below is a (non-exhaustive) sneak peak of what the dispatches will describe.

    • Demographics: For years, population scientists have warned that the aging of baby boomers in the U.S. will cause massive capacity constraints on our health care system. Often left out of the discussion, however, are the concurrent shifts in power and health status that will shape the relative needs, preferences, and influence of subsequent generations.
    • Technology: There is a rich and promising pipeline of new technologies in health care, including AI, 3D printing, and precision medicine. But clinical innovations and computing power are not the only ways technology will change the nature of our industry. The ways people interact with technology—our biases, preferences, and limitations—are likely to accelerate adoption of certain advancement while causing friction elsewhere. And the ways people interact with information and each other, as facilitated by technology, may become one of this sector’s most daunting challenges.
    • Ecology: Climate change and the reality of a developing world becoming ever richer are likely to have huge environmental repercussions. These changes will affect public health and require us to prepare and adapt. At the same time, new regulations, incentives, and increasingly global approaches to climate change will elevate the business imperative for participating in emission reductions and other mitigation efforts.

    Dispatch no. 1, May 19, 2030

    The population aged, as expected, but it was the aging of young people that changed health care in the most surprising ways.

    Read the dispatch
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