Top 10 trends for health care and wellness in 2012

For those of us in the healthcare and wellness business, we realize our industry is changing and evolving quickly, mostly out of pure necessity.  The healthcare industry is overburdened, over budget and in need of an overhaul.  But the potential for our healthcare and wellness system is incredible for all audiences it touches — from consumers to medical professions to healthcare and wellness marketers. Throughout this past year familiar themes rang clear across our industry, giving us insights into what will play vital roles for healthcare in our future. Below are my Top 10 for 2012:

  1. Technology will lead the way:  No doubt that technology will pave a way for a better overall healthcare and wellness system, providing a more efficient and effective experience between consumers, healthcare providers, insurers, retailers, and healthcare and wellness brands.  The primary concern will be the sharing and exchange of data for cost-cutting and efficiency purposes. But technology will also propel consumers to have more engaged and interactive experiences with not only their doctors and providers, but also healthcare retailers, brands and advertisers.  Look for mobile, digital and cloud-based technologies to rise. Note: Technology plays a role in every trend listed below.
  2. The empowered consumer continues to rise:  The ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘self-service’ trend among consumers will continue in 2012. And technology plays a large role here. Research shows that 80% of U.S. Internet users claim to have used the web to search for health-related information and answers — and that is just search.  Many platforms from interactive healthcare kiosks to social media to personalized health sites are allowing consumers to empower themselves.  As consumers increasingly turn to self-service technologies and channels, the entire healthcare industry has a tremendous opportunity to reach, engage and interact with today’s empowered consumer. And that will yield some powerful results from consumers to doctors to retailers.
  3. Retail plays an increased role:  From pharmacies to in-store clinics and healthcare kiosks, retail establishments from Walgreens to Walmart to Safeway will play vital roles to connect with consumers for better healthcare access, awareness and treatments.  Consumers are still frequenting brick-and-mortar stores; connecting with them while they are there offers great opportunities for healthcare providers, advertisers and the retail locations.  
  4. Awareness and prevention will have a renewed focus:   A renewed focused on awareness and prevention will be a priority in 2012, as chronic diseases account for many of our healthcare issues and costs.  Businesses and organizations from employers to insurers to retailers will institute health-and-wellness programs to encourage better health and prevention.  It’s a tried and true formula, but awareness and prevention are probably the best frontline defense against poor health and cutting unnecessary costs across the board. 
  5. Digital, social and mobile a priority:  In another nod to technology, but one worth its own section, digital, social and mobile technologies will play a major role in 2012 and beyond. Increasingly, consumers, healthcare providers and health-and-wellness businesses are turning to digital and social communities to connect, learn and engage.  And with the projected rise of mobile growth, specifically smartphones, look for mobile to become a rising and preferred communication device. There is great opportunity for healthcare professionals, retailers and advertisers to develop innovative strategies to reach and engage with consumers when they are on the go.  This opens tremendous opportunities for the entire health ecosystem.
  6. Open data access continues: The days of “closed” data in healthcare are quickly dwindling.  The open access of healthcare data — of course, respecting privacy — will be more prevalent. Take, for example, electronic health records.  Although still in its infancy, and a monumental task to replace the current system, it will become a standard process that will greatly improve the coordination of consumer’s healthcare data, reduce errors and lower costs.  The days of mailing, faxing and passing along a paper trail of data will become digital.
  7. Line between healthcare insurers and providers continues to blur: The merger and partnership of insurers and hospital operators crosses a traditional healthcare divide. But look for this trend to continue as the industry restructures and overhauls healthcare operations to cut costs and make way for better efficiencies.
  8. Increased government involvement and focus:  The Obama administration-backed healthcare reform bill, passed last year, has been under tight scrutiny since it appeared. And it heads to the Supreme Court in March 2012 to determine if it is “constitutional” — right in the middle of the heated election season. Look for government organizations and politicans to make healthcare a chief focal point for the political season and beyond.  The government will definitely play a role in our future health care. Only time — and the nine-member court — will tell to what extent and level. 
  9. Cost transparency:  Another by-product of today’s broken, over-budget healthcare system, coupled with today’s empowered and engaged consumer, is that healthcare costs will be more transparent. No more cloak of confusion and secrecy over charges and why.  You’ll see a more simplified and transparent cost and services breakdown, across the entire healthcare system.
  10. Pharmaceutical switch - brand to OTC generic:  Not even the big, money-making drug companies will be immune to the new and evolving healthcare landscape.  Look for big Pharma to turn to OTC versions to continue profit streams as brand-name prescription drugs encounter tough competition from OTCs and generics.  AstraZeneca just announced it will reduce its U.S. sales force by almost 25% in response to generic competition for top products, a common theme across most drug companies as executives cite a “challenging environment”.  In another example, Pfizer will introduce an OTC version of its highly popular and profitable Lipitor drug, which lost patent protection last month.  Expect more of the same in 2012.

Bart Foster, founder & CEO of SoloHealth, is an award-winning entrepreneur and business executive with more than 15 years of international sales and marketing experience in the consumer products, technology and healthcare industries.  In 2007, Foster founded SoloHealth, a leading consumer-driven healthcare technology company that specializes in interactive health screening kiosks, as well as other platforms, to empower consumers about their health through awareness, education and action. Prior to founding SoloHealth, Foster held leadership positions at CIBA Vision, the eye care division of Novartis AG. He also held sales and marketing roles at Peachtree Network, a successful Internet start-up based in Montreal, Canada, and with Kellogg’s in consumer marketing and sales. Foster holds a B.S. in marketing from the University of Florida and an MBA in Global Management from the University of Phoenix.  You can follow Foster on Twitter at @Bart_Foster and @SoloHealth.

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