PwC’s list of 12 factors that will shape the healthcare landscape in 2018 calls attention to many new innovations Dark Daily has reported on that will impact how medical laboratories perform their tests

PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) issued its annual report, detailing the 12 factors expected to impact the healthcare industry the most in 2018. Dark Daily culled items from the list that will most likely impact clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups. They include:

How clinical laboratory leaders respond to these items could, in part, be determined by new technologies.

AI Is Everywhere, Including in the Medical Laboratory

Artificial intelligence is becoming highly popular in the healthcare industry. According to an article in Healthcare IT News, business executives who were polled want to “automate tasks such as routine paperwork (82%), scheduling (79%), timesheet entry (78%), and accounting (69%) with AI tools.” However, only about 20% of the executives surveyed have the technology in place to use AI effectively. The majority—about 75%—plan to invest in AI over the next three years—whether they are ready or not.

One such example of how AI could impact clinical laboratories was demonstrated by a recent advancement in microscope imaging. Researchers at the University of Waterloo (UW) developed a new spectral light fusion microscope that captures images in full color and is far less expensive than microscopes currently on the market.

“In medicine, we know that pathology is the gold standard in helping to analyze and diagnose patients, but that standard is difficult to come by in areas that can’t afford it,” Alexander Wong, PhD, one of the UW researchers, told CLP.

“The newly developed microscope has no lens and uses artificial intelligence and mathematical models of light to develop 3D images at a large scale. To get the same effect using current technologies—using a machine that costs several hundred thousand dollars—a technician is required to ‘stitch together’ multiple images from traditional microscopes,” CLP noted.

Healthcare Intermediaries Could Become Involved with Clinical Laboratory Data

Pricing is one of the biggest concerns for patients and government entities. This is a particular concern for the pharmaceutical sector. PwC’s report notes that “stock values for five of the largest intermediaries in the pharmacy supply chain have slumped in the last two years as demands for lower costs and better outcomes have intensified.”

Thus, according to PwC, pressure may come to bear on intermediaries such as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and wholesalers, to “prove value and success in creating efficiencies or risk losing their place in the supply chain.”

Similar pressures to lower costs and improve efficiency are at work in the clinical laboratory industry as well. Dark Daily reported on one such cost-cutting measure that involves shifting healthcare payments toward digital assets using blockchains. The technology digitally links trusted payers and providers with patient data, including medical laboratory test results. (See, “Blockchain Technology Could Impact How Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups Exchange Lab Test Data,” September 29, 2017.)

PwC 2018 Annual Report

PwC’s latest report predicts 12 forces that will continue to impact healthcare, including clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups, in 2018. Click on the image of the cover above to access an online version of the report. (Photo copyright: PwC/Issuu.)

The Opioid Crisis Remains at the Forefront

Healthcare will continue to feel the impact of the opioid crisis, according to the PwC report. Medical laboratories will continue to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of opioid addition, which has garnered the full attention of the federal government and has become a multi-million-dollar industry.

Security Remains a Concern

Cybersecurity will continue to impact every facet of healthcare in 2018. Healthcare IT News reported, “While 95% of provider executives believe their organization is protected against cybersecurity attacks, only 36% have access management policies and just 34% have a cybersecurity audit process.”

Patients are aware of the risks and are often skeptical of health information technology (HIT), Dark Daily reported in June of last year. Clinical laboratories must work together with providers and healthcare organizations to audit their security measures. Recognizing the importance of the topic, the National Independent Laboratory Association (NILA) has named cybersecurity for laboratory information systems (LIS) a focus area.

Patient Experience a Priority

Although there have been significant improvements in the area of administrative tasks, there is still an enormous demand for a better patient experience, including in clinical laboratories. Healthcare providers want patients to make changes for the better that ultimately improve outcomes and the patient experience is one path toward that goal.

“Provider reimbursements will be based in part on patient engagement efforts such as promoting self-management and coaching patients between visits,” PwC noted in its report, a fact that Dark Daily has continually reported on for years. (See, “Pathologists and Clinical Lab Executives Take Note: Medicare Has New Goals and Deadlines for Transitioning from Fee-For-Service Healthcare Models to Value-Based Reimbursement,” April 1, 2015.)

Demands for Price Transparency Increase

As they follow healthcare reform guidelines to increase quality while lowering costs, state governments will continue to ramp up pressure on healthcare providers and third parties in the area of pricing. Rather than simply requiring organizations to report on pricing, states are moving towards legislating price controls, as Dark Daily reported in February.

Social Factors Affect Healthcare Access

The transition to value-based care makes the fact that patients’ socioeconomic statuses matter when it comes to their health. “The most important part of getting good results is not the knowledge of the doctors, not the treatment, not the drug. It’s the logistics, the social support, the ability to arrange babysitting,” David Berg, MD, co-founder of Redirect Health told PwC.

One such transition that is helping patients gain access to healthcare involves microhospitals and their adoption of telemedicine technologies, which Dark Daily reported on in March.

“Right now, they seem to be popping up in large urban and suburban metro areas,” Priya Bathija, Vice President, Value Initiative American Hospital Association, told NPR. “We really think they have the potential to help in vulnerable communities that have a lack of access.”

Data Collection Challenges Pharma

The 21st Century Cures Act, along with the potential exploitation of Big Data, will make it possible for organizations to gain faster, less expensive approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As Dark Daily noted in April, the FDA “released guidelines on how the agency intends to regulate—or not regulate—digital health, clinical-decision-support (CDS), and patient-decision-support (PDS) software applications.

“Physician decision-support software utilizes medical laboratory test data as a significant part of a full dataset used to guide caregivers,” Dark Daily noted. “Thus, if the FDA makes it easier for developers to get regulatory clearance for these types of products, that could positively impact medical labs’ ability to service their client physicians.”

Healthcare Delivery During and Following Natural Disasters

PwC predicts the long-term physical results, financial limitations, and supply chain disruptions following natural disasters will continue to affect healthcare in 2018. The devastation can prevent many people from receiving adequate, timely healthcare.

However, new laboratory-on-a-chip (LOC) and other “lab-on-a-…” testing technologies, coupled with medical drone deliver services, can bring much need healthcare to remote, unreachable areas that lack electricity and other services. (See Dark Daily, “Lab-on-a-Fiber Technology Continues to Highlight Nano-Scale Clinical Laboratory Diagnostic Testing in Point-of-Care Environments,” April 2, 2018, and, “Johns Hopkins’ Test Drone Travels 161 Miles to Set Record for Delivery Distance of Clinical Laboratory Specimens,” November 15, 2017.)

PwC’s report is an important reminder of from where the clinical laboratory/anatomic pathology industry has come, and to where it is headed. Sharp industry leaders will pay attention to the predictions contained therein.

—Dava Stewart

Related Information:

Top Health Industry Issue of 2018

PwC Health Research Institute Top Health Industry Issues of 2018 Report: Issuu Slide Presentation

12 Defining Healthcare Issues of 2018

Is Laboratory Medicine Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence Imaging Research Facilitates Disease Diagnosis

Blockchain Technology Could Impact How Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups Exchange Lab Test Data

Skepticism, Distrust of HIT by Healthcare Consumers Undermines Physician Adoption of Medical Reporting Technologies, But Is Opportunity for Pathology Groups, Clinical Laboratories

Pathologists and Clinical Lab Executives Take Note: Medicare Has New Goals and Deadlines for Transitioning from Fee-For-Service Healthcare Models to Value-Based Reimbursement

Researchers Point to Cost of Services, including Medical Laboratories, for Healthcare Spending Gap Between the US and Other Developed Countries

Telemedicine and Microhospitals Could Make Up for Reducing Numbers of Primary Care Physicians in US Urban and Metro Suburban Areas

New FDA Regulations of Clinical Decision-Support/Digital Health Applications and Medical Software Has Consequences for Medical Laboratories

Lab-on-a-Fiber Technology Continues to Highlight Nano-Scale Clinical Laboratory Diagnostic Testing in Point-of-Care Environments

Johns Hopkins’ Test Drone Travels 161 Miles to Set Record for Delivery Distance of Clinical Laboratory Specimens