When you buy an airline ticket, you can search online and find the best value based on your desired departure date. But navigating the U.S. healthcare system can be a more challenging experience. The ability to look up a hospital or physician and easily access the information you want depends on where you live, with each state determining what is available to healthcare consumers.

Yet positive change is coming to the healthcare industry. Dr. Mountasser Kadrie, who directs Walden University’s Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program and has more than 25 years of executive-level healthcare management experience, points to several developments that are helping to transform a costly, fragmented system into one that adopts best practices and responds to consumer demands. Whether you provide or receive healthcare, here’s what you need to know about the industry today:

Changing conditions are driving new expectations. What Dr. Kadrie calls the “triple whammy”—an aging population, the increased incidence of chronic diseases, and rising costs—makes new approaches to healthcare delivery a necessity. He says, “We need to manage these significant trends and forces well to avoid bankrupting our healthcare system and the economy.” As a result, healthcare organizations are being held more accountable for their patients’ health and medical outcomes. They’re also expected to operate more efficiently and cost effectively than before. New regulations are being implemented to support these goals, including the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which required healthcare facilities to put electronic medical record technology in place by 2014 or face stiff financial penalties.

Technology is disrupting healthcare delivery. The electronic medical record is just one of the technologies disrupting business as usual in healthcare. “The exciting news is that we expect technologies to improve healthcare outcomes and create more efficiency in the way we deliver healthcare,” says Dr. Kadrie. One of those technologies includes radio frequency identification (RFID) devices that help healthcare organizations keep needed supplies on hand while reducing inventory costs. Another is cloud computing, which lets them store health records more economically and better manage patient care. For example, with cloud computing, providers can view evidence-based treatment guidelines and access test results and other patient information from throughout the healthcare delivery system. In addition, mobile apps and point-of-care technologies make it possible for patients to leave the hospital sooner and have their conditions monitored at home. Also, telemedicine is giving healthcare consumers far from healthcare facilities access to the medical services they need. For instance, a new breed of robots is assisting with medical care. Deployed at an increasing number of hospitals, these robots allow physicians to virtually consult with patients, even from miles away.

Consumer demand is forcing healthcare organizations to respond. “The consumer has a large impact on the way healthcare is delivered,” says Dr. Kadrie. Today’s healthcare consumers are seeking the same level of service and convenience they find in other industries, and healthcare organizations are starting to meet their expectations. For example, patients can now receive lab test results within 36 hours of a visit to their primary care providers, rather than waiting weeks.

The focus of healthcare delivery is shifting from volume to value. For many years, healthcare organizations have measured their success by the numbers—how many patients seen, medical procedures completed, and hospital beds filled. That’s changing: The new performance metric is value, or the clinical outcomes of healthcare delivery for targeted patients and communities. “Healthcare organizations survive and benefit when people are healthier and happier and resources are used effectively,” adds Dr. Kadrie.

Healthcare is becoming a magnet for new talent. As technology plays a greater role in healthcare delivery, opportunities are growing for programmers, systems analysts, and others with technical skills. That’s attracting people with backgrounds in a variety of industries who can add value to healthcare organizations. Others already working in the healthcare industry are retraining to take advantage of new technology-driven careers. “As I emphasize to my students at Walden, the healthcare industry is going through a significant transition phase,” Dr. Kadrie says. “Those who embrace change in the healthcare delivery system and are flexible and dynamic will be rewarded and will be able to help take the industry to the next level.”

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