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Chris Bevolo’s five potent healthcare predictions are reshaping how consumers engage in healthcare

NRC Health’s Patient No Longer podcast, which creates connections to drive organizational change, innovative strategies, and digital technologies, takes you inside the minds of healthcare leaders and innovators who are inspiring a positive shift in the customer experience.

In a recent episode, Awestruck then Energized: Dissecting the Next Decade of Healthcare (Joe Public Predictions), Chris Bevolo, chief brand officer at Revive shares intriguing trends and some downright scary predictions for where healthcare could go in the not-too-distant future. Drawing from his new book, Joe Public 2030: Five Potent Predictions Reshaping How Consumers Engage Healthcare, Bevolo shares with host Ryan Donohue his thoughts on a hopeful healthcare world—and a not-so-hopeful alternative.

Based on insights developed by a team of researchers, strategists, and futurists at Revive, the five core predictions are supported by more than 250 resource citations and input from 22 industry experts, including health-system CEOs, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and physicians. The book’s purpose is to spark conversation about how the future of health and healthcare in the United States might emerge and how individuals and organizations might want to prepare for—or even change—that future. Here’s a look at the five predictions.

Prediction 1: The Copernican Consumer

Consumers will become the center of their health universe, enabled by sensors, AI, and other technology and services geared toward empowering them, leading to profound implications for consumers and healthcare organizations. Potential results could include a dramatic reduction in the need for primary-care clinicians, an entirely new sector devoted to personal health management, true precision medicine combined with health management, and more.

“We’re seeing a renaissance in house calls and in-home health,” Bevolo says. “And we’ve got systems like Intermountain Healthcare and Geisinger that are trying to advance things like virtual hospitals. So we’re seeing more and more of that from the kind of legacy provider sector.”

Prediction 2: Constricted Consumerism

While consumers will become increasingly responsible for their health and healthcare services, they will become less and less empowered in their care choices, especially in higher-acuity, higher-cost situations. While many in the industry will continue to sing the praises of choice, most consumers will have fewer choices moving forward, often in ways they might never consider or see.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’ve got a lot of choices for my flu shot,’” Bevolo says. “That’s either free or ten bucks. But I’m not going to have a lot of choices for my $30,000 knee surgery.”

Prediction 3: The Funnel Wars

Today we tend to consider hospitals and health systems birds of the same feather in terms of business model, with variances in size, scope of services, for-profit vs. non-profit, and other factors. In the future, we could see the splitting of the health-system model, in which some systems will move even further to the larger, more comprehensive “health” organizations, others retract into solely acute-care destinations—the “giant ICU on a hill”—and others land somewhere in the middle.

These models may emerge based on core geographic/market differences such as the presence of competitors, plan consolidation/power, regulation, and dozens of other market forces. Yet the primary area where this transformation would play out is with health, wellness, and the lower-acuity care points—what we’re calling the Funnel Wars.

“There will always be a need for hospitals,” Bevolo says. “There will always be a need for academic medical centers. But I would say that in those markets where these systems lose out, and they shrink to a giant ICU on the hill or to a downstream vendor of care, they’re going to be smaller. By definition, they will not have the full continuum of care. They will have lost the battle for the patient relationship at the top of the funnel.”

Prediction 4: The Rise of Health Sects

Challenges to and skepticism around the mainstream medical field and science itself have exploded in the past two years because of the pandemic and political tribalism in the United States. Anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, and COVID deniers are just the start of this expansion of distrust of experts, which, taken to its potential end, could result in multiple “health sects”—primary “schools” of medical thought that coalesce around political views and worldviews.

Imagine “Mainstreamers,” who might follow the establishment healthcare point of view; “Progressives,” who follow minimal medical intervention, combined with complementary and alternative medical solutions; and “Contrarians,” who deny mainstream medical thought and create their own set of “alternative facts” on everything from vaccines and childbirth to end-of-life care, and everything in between. These sects will not only follow the medical thinking that best fits their worldview, but they may also create their own reality through alternative research, diagnosis and treatment approaches, and models for the delivery of care itself.

Bevolo recalls a story from Minnesota where the state medical board was reviewing a pediatrician because he was telling all his families not to get vaccines for their kids. “And the state medical board is reviewing his license,” he says. “Then you investigate some medical boards. In every case, county and state boards are all political appointees.

“You’re not Patagonia,” he continues. “You’re not Fox News. You can’t pick a red audience or a blue audience to treat. You need to treat them all. How do you promote vaccines when whatever percentage of the population doesn’t believe in vaccines? It’s a real issue. And it’s only going to get—unfortunately, we think—worse.”

Prediction 5: Disparity Dystopia

The COVID-19 pandemic shone an ugly light on the disparities that have plagued the U.S. healthcare system for decades. Unfortunately, that health gap is more likely than not to expand, as the “haves” gain access to increasingly more expensive medical treatments, health services, and personalized care, while the “have nots” will face growing shortages in basic health resources, from clean water and air to physicians and clinicians, rural healthcare, and more.

This shift will be compounded by the mental-health crisis, which disproportionately affects systemically disadvantaged populations and groups outside traditional healthcare-access channels (teens, for example). All while those entities that might address these disparities—health systems, health plans, and state and federal governments—struggle more and more financially, and others lack the incentives to focus on the growing issue.

“This is something that’s not new,” Bevolo says. “Disparities and equities have been with us for decades and decades—as long as there have been health systems in this country. COVID-19 made things worse, and it also shone a spotlight on that. And unfortunately, from everything we saw, it’s not going to get better. This is big stuff, but it’s not necessarily great stuff. We didn’t intend for this to come out with some negative predictions, but the cards are on the table. It is what it is. But the future is what we make it.”

Catch the full series of Chris Bevolo’s episodes of the Patient No Longer podcast: