Ready or not, healthcare is about to enter the new millennium. For managers that means confronting an iron triangle of finite resources, a rapidly aging population and extraordinary scientific breakthroughs.
This special edition of Modern Healthcare outlines the issues and challenges providers will face in the 21st century. To better focus the effort, we asked a number of our reporters and industry experts to gaze into their crystal balls and tell us what they see a couple of decades down the road: their visions for 2020.
The 32-page supplement also salutes healthcare's accomplishments and milestones through the millennia. The timeline, which begins with the first surgical treatment in 8000 B.C. and closes with 1999's political preoccupation with patient protection, runs across the bottom of the pages.
While it's imperative to prepare for the future, healthcare providers should not lose sight of the medical miracles that took place in the 20th century and much earlier. Life expectancy in the U.S., for example, is inching toward 80 years, compared with about 47 years in 1900.
The outstanding performance by healthcare providers has created an environment where patients and payers expect high quality, excellent service and reasonable prices.
The successful healthcare manager in 2020 will inspire the organization with desire, business acumen, strategic flexibility and social responsibility. The top-flight healthcare providers will emphasize customer service as they showcase quality outcomes and cost efficiency.
Modern Healthcare and its predecessors have traced the industry's travails since 1913, and we will be following every step of the way in the evolution of value-driven medical care.
Three of our staff members deserve special credit for their contributions to this issue. Features editor David May and reporter J. Duncan Moore Jr. coordinated and edited the stories, while Keith Horist, assistant managing editor/graphics, handled the design.
And kudos to Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which in June hosted an executive conference on the future of medical technology at its grand new $580 million facility. The National Committee for Quality Health Care, Washington, and Modern Healthcare were among the sponsors of the thought-provoking seminar.
As you prepare to plunge into this collection of stories, consider your own vision of healthcare's future. My own wish list for 2020 would include clean, simple and understandable medical bills that are dispatched and paid in a timely fashion. That may be shooting for the moon, but there are some other more attainable goals, such as:
* Empowering patients. This is a two-way street. Not only would patients have more information and control over their medical care, they would assume full responsibility for managing their health.
* Rewarding quality. Federal health programs, managed-care plans and consumers would choose providers based on a combination of high quality and fair pricing.
* Integrating information. Computers would tie together hospitals, physicians, patients and payers. Medical records would be considered the property of the patient, not the insurer or the provider. Security and privacy of individual records would be guaranteed.
* Attaining universal health insurance. We would wave goodbye to the problem of the uninsured. At a minimum, all American citizens would have coverage to protect themselves against medical catastrophes.
* Properly financing medical education. Funding to train physicians would be separated from the Medicare program. The current situation is too messy, complicated and political. As a public policy issue, medical education is important enough to stand on its own.
Now, we'll let the experts have their say.