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Top 10 healthcare issues to watch in 2016

Mergers, cybersecurity, biosimilars rank high in the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers' list.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Technology and connectivity will continue its steady infiltration of the healthcare landscape, branding and trust take priority over convenience, and the advancement and integration of connected health technologies will hinge on cybersecurity. Those are the major findings of the Top 10 Health Industry Issues 2016 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute.

The report, issued yearly by PwC, first points to technology as a major player. It showed millennials thoroughly embracing wearable devices and health apps. The report said millennials also preferred virtual communication for health interactions. 60 percent were willing to have a video visit with a physician through a mobile device, and 21 percent were using mobile devices to fill prescriptions.

[Compare: Top 10 healthcare issues to watch in 2015]

Here is PwC's complete list of the top 10 health industry issues for 2016. Look for more in-depth analysis on each point in the coming weeks on Healthcare Finance. And if you are a health industry insider with some perspective on these trends, we'd love to hear from you. Email beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com:

1. "2016 is the year of merger mania."

We've seen plenty of deals take shape in 2015, and the blistering momentum shows no sign of stopping, including insurers who must convince regulators the deals benefit consumers. Independent hospitals may find it difficult to compete as bigger competitors merge, and brand recognition will become crucial to attracting consumers.

2. "Goldilocks comes to drug prices"

Insurers, patients, and even politicians on both sides of the aisle insist drug prices are too high. Pharma, on the other hand, is grappling with the pressure to drop prices while at the same time figuring out how to still fund new drugs and technology. HRI says, "Like the proverbial story of Goldilocks, the search is on for a pricing formula that is just right" for all sides of the debate, especially with 17 percent of those surveyed for the report saying they have asked their doctors for cheaper medications.

3. "Care in the palm of your hand"

in 2015, 32 percent of consumers had at least one health app, medical or fitness app on their mobile device. The utilization of smartphones, connected medical devices, and health apps will continue it's march into the healthcare industry and into the hands of consumers; primary care and chronic disease management are two areas leading the charge. Patients are going home with connected medical devices like pacemakers and ECG monitors, and e-visits are gaining momentum.

4. "Cybersecurity concerns come to medical technology"

The flip side of all that connectivity? Nearly 40 percent of consumers said they'd leave a health system, or hesitate to use one, that had been hacked. Why? Connected medical devices can be vulnerable, making vulnerable those that are connected to them. More than 50 percent of those surveyed said they'd avoid, or at least hesitate to use one, if the health system providing it had been breached.

5. "The new money managers"

Employers are providing tools and incentives for their employees to shop for the best healthcare options. Providers are offering new options to patients like financing for health care charges. HRI said more than half of 18 to 34 year-olds surveyed would use a service that helped them plan for medical expenses in much the same way an advisor would help them plan for retirement. And financial advisors are stepping up to do just that. Overall, consumers will start to manage their own health spending in new ways that will likely create a ripple effect across the industry.

6. "Behavioral healthcare: no longer on the backburner"

A long-standing stigma and lack of awareness has kept mental health and mental illness from being as widely recognized and actively engaged with as it likely should be by employers. According to HRI, more than half of US counties, all rural, have no practicing mental health clinicians.  With one out of five American adults experiencing mental illness every year, these conditions cost businesses $440 billion a year. But change is coming in 2016, as it becomes more inescapable that employee and customer well-being being is crucial to their bottom line.

7. "Care moves to the community"

As systems make the jump to value-based payments and the ongoing quest to lower health costs continues, lower-cost settings like community hospitals will play a greater role in patient care. The reasonably new concept of bedless hospitals may also gain traction, as hospitals seek to reduce costly inpatient care that could be re-directed to less expensive facilities.

8. "New databases improve patient care/consumer health"

Traditional databases, like electronic health records, are useful for easily-structured information, However, things like physician's notes aren't always as easily handled, accessed, or analyzed. New tools could help solves this problem and according to HRI data, a majority of consumers are willing to share their information.

9. "Enter the biosimilars"

Biosimilars- a "near substitute" for an original brand drug but derived from living organisms- are sold at discounted rates after the original loses its patent.  The first biosimilar entered the US market this year at a 15 percent discount. In 2016, there are at least four more pending FDA review, and dozens more somewhere in the review process.

10. "The medical cost mystery"

With healthcare costs rising at a feverish rate, and consumers ever more strapped for money, the demand for transparency when it comes to what your healthcare costs, and why, is growing. And it's not just consumers. Insurers and other industry players are looking for details too. The onus is now on providers to do the math, and provide the answers.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn

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