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Health care: An industry in transition

Health care has come a long way from the days when barbers performed operations between shaves, when a minor infection could be life-threatening because there were no antibiotics. 

Over the centuries, the field of medicine has advanced beyond our ancestors’ wildest imaginations, thanks to amazing discoveries and innovations.

Today, the evolution continues, and like just about every other industry, health care is changing with the times. Here’s a look at some of the top challenges and trends influencing the industry, as well as how those changes may affect health care professionals.

Keeping costs in check

While advances in health care have been epic, so are its rising costs. In 2013, U.S. health care spending reached $2.9 trillion, which amounts to $9,255 per person, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Projections show that costs will continue to increase.

Despite this large investment, the U.S. doesn’t achieve better health outcomes than the other 11 countries included in a 2014 report by The Commonwealth Fund. Additionally, a 2015 Deloitte study indicates that consumers are paying a greater share of their health plan premiums and shelling out higher out-of-pocket costs for medical services.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) has produced further changes with its expansion of Medicaid and the health insurance mandate. While experts disagree on whether this effort will control health care spending, they generally acknowledge that soaring costs are one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today.

Innovations abound

Perhaps one way to create more efficient and effective health care is to embrace innovation and technology. The digital age has permeated every area of our lives, and health care is no exception.

Innovations have moved beyond electronic records management, which has become mainstream. Telemedicine—phone or online consultations with health care providers for routine, minor illnesses—is on the rise. Medical market research firm Kalorama

Information reports that the global telemedicine market grew from $4.2 billion in 2007 to more than $10 billion in 2012.

Wearable devices are hot, too. According to a 2014 national survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one in five American adults owns one. The same survey showed digital health startups had raised $2.3 billion during the first half of 2014, with $200 million of that going toward digital medical devices—including wearables. This market looks like it’s set to boom.

With surgical robots already in the operating room and 3-D printing of transplantable human organs on the horizon, soon a trip to the hospital may resemble a scene from a science fiction movie.

Opportunity knocks

Another challenge will be fixing the shortage of health care professionals necessary to meet the needs of an aging baby-boomer population, as well as those newly insured through the ACA. Many experts believe that the demand for health care will exceed the industry’s ability to supply it.

A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges forecasts a shortfall of up to 90,000 physicians by 2025. Experts also predict registered nurses will be in short supply in the decade to come. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Employment Projections for 2012–2022 indicates the need for registered nurses will outpace the pool of qualified candidates.

In fact, the BLS predicts there will be more than 1 million vacant nursing positions by 2022.

This predicament is compounded by the fact that there also is a shortage of qualified nursing faculty. A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing revealed that in 2013, nursing schools in the U.S. turned away more than 78,000 qualified applicants from undergraduate and graduate nursing programs because they didn’t have enough faculty members and facilities to accommodate them. For those who find a way to cultivate knowledge and expertise in health care, the prognosis looks promising.

“The health care industry is rapidly changing, which is great news for those who are ready to meet the challenges and are qualified to embrace the opportunities that will arise,” says Tamara Rozhon, Ed.D., executive dean of the University of Phoenix® College of Health Professions. “Education plays a critical role in helping prepare the workforce to meet the current and future needs of employers in the health care field, ” Rozhon says.


"The health care industry is rapidly changing, which is great news for those who are ready to meet the challenges and are qualified to embrace the opportunities that will arise.”
- Tamara Rozhon, Executive Dean, College of Health Professions


Hot jobs in health care

Groundbreaking innovations, projected shortages of health care professionals and the need for strong leaders all add up to one thing for those looking to work in the health care industry: opportunity.

“The career outlook is excellent for health care professionals,” asserts Margaret Morris, Ph.D., RN, dean of faculty for the University of Phoenix School of Nursing.

Health care by the numbers

Here are three areas where qualified employees are projected to be in demand:

Technology

It’s no surprise that IT-related health care jobs are hot, so much so that a subset of this field has its own name: health informatics. Those working in health informatics jobs leverage the power of technology to deliver quality care in an efficient, effective manner. A study by Burning Glass Technologies reveals that the demand for these specialized workers will likely grow at twice the rate of overall employment.

While software developers, systems engineers, database managers and other IT professionals are working behind the scenes in health care, these new, specially trained health informatics employees will work as medical coders, clinical analysts, health information managers and in other technology-related functions.

The popularity of remote monitoring devices and other high-tech tools, such as those that keep tabs on the blood sugar levels of diabetic patients and send reports directly to doctors’ offices is increasing. In light of this change, it becomes obvious that even patient-facing health care workers will need at least a baseline skill set in technology in order to thrive.

Health care providers

The demand for health care providers is set to increase as previously uninsured individuals and families gain heath care coverage. Additionally, seniors are living longer, often while managing chronic illnesses, meaning the demand for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and other frontline caregivers will continue to increase. 

U.S. News and World Report’s list of “100 Best Jobs of 2015” confirms this trend. The list’s top 10 includes nurse practitioners, registered nurses and physician assistants—a worthy indicator, considering the list includes jobs across a wide range of industries.

Health care administration

The need for leaders to navigate regulatory, legal and technological changes also is great. Health care administrators oversee medical and health services for organizations, be it for a small medical practice or a large-scale hospital system or government agency—and everywhere in between.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that health care administration jobs will grow at a much faster rate than the average for all other occupations—a whopping 23 percent from 2012 to 2022.

“There are health care shortages across the country,” explains Morris. If you’re in the market for a new career, all signs point to a healthy future in the business of caring.

Be ready for opportunity

Health care jobs abound. So what does it take to land one and build a successful career in health care? In short, the right skills and education.

“There are unlimited opportunities for those who are willing to prepare themselves,” says Mark Johannsson, DHSc, MPH, FRSCH, academic dean for the School of Health Services Administration. “Retooling your knowledge and skill set through academic preparation will position you to fully engage in health care career opportunities,” Johannsson says.

Mark Madden, senior vice president of executive search at health care leadership consulting firm B. E. Smith, shares his take on the skills that are necessary in health care. “Besides a level of intelligence to work within a highly complex industry, [prospective health care professionals] have got to have the interpersonal ability to build relationships internally and externally,” he says. “They have to have the intensity and drive to move at a faster pace.”

Madden says they also need flexibility, adaptability and the capacity for innovative thinking.

“The health care industry is going to demand a higher skill set,” adds Johannsson. “Our standards are changing. The health care industry’s expectations of its workers are continuously evolving, so keeping your knowledge base relevant in real time has never been more important.”

This means more practical nurses will obtain bachelor’s degrees, and more BSN degree nurses and other health care professionals will pursue graduate degrees so they are poised to grow with the burgeoning industry.