During the decade that was 2000 to 2010, there was tremendous progress in medical care. Our research and technology continues to improve the quality of life for people with chronic illness.
However, our health care system continues to be burdened with growing costs and poor health for many Americans. We spend considerably more on health care than any other nation, but we rank lower than many countries in health outcomes.
In spite of advances in medical care, many Americans (perhaps more than 40 to 50 million) have limited access to the best we have to offer. Perhaps the coming decade will reverse these trends.
1. Continued Advances in Medical Technology
The next decade will continue to see an explosion of new and exciting technology for the treatment of chronic disease.
- Genomics: Scientists are studying our genes to create drugs that can prevent a specific disease in the future. Your doctor may be able to do a blood test, predict that you may develop a certain disease, and then give you a “genetic” vaccine to prevent it.
- Medical Monitors: Devices in your home will provide information about your health to your doctor without a trip to the doctor's office.
- Stem Cells: Researchers may begin to find treatments for health problems such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries.
- Personalized Drugs: Medications designed specifically to work in your body.
2. Electronic Medical Records
Gradually, all of your health information will be accessible electronically. No matter where you are, your medical data will be available instantly to you and anyone who provides you with medical services.
Because of the cost involved, the United States has been slow to adopt electronic health records. However, this is changing rapidly.
When completely put into practice, your family’s electronic record will allow you to read your medical record online and print out reports such as your child’s immunizations. Your doctor will be able to look at your reports from labs and the hospital, including viewing your x-rays online. And, your doctor will be able to order your prescriptions electronically, saving you time at the pharmacy.
3. Health Reform
Sometime early in 2010, the U.S. Congress should pass, and the president will sign, some form of health reform legislation.
At a minimum, the new law will assure that most people will have basic health insurance coverage (significantly reducing the number of uninsured) and health plans will eliminate barriers to health coverage, such as pre-existing condition requirements.
During the decade, these initial efforts most likely will be modified based on cost and the effect of health reform on access to health care and the ability of employers and individuals to purchase health insurance.
Also, many states, depending on need and the economy, may offer additional health insurance safe guards to protect their residents.
4. Fewer Primary Care Physicians
The United States has a shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) who provide basic health care services for adults. This most likely will get worse in the coming decade, creating a problem for many Americans who need medical care to treat a chronic health problem.
Many medical students leave medical school with debts exceeding $100,000 and avoid primary care because of poor payment from health plans, especially Medicare. Also, many PCPs are retiring or changing careers.
The aging American population, the increased number of people with health insurance (when health reform legislation is enacted), and our poor lifestyle will increase the demand for primary care doctors. The problem is supply -— there are not enough of them.
5. U.S. Population Will Get Fatter and Have More Diabetes
The American population is getting fatter, a problem that will have significant health-related and financial consequences for the country over the next 10 years. Sixty-five percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and this trend is expected to continue, especially in children and adolescents.
At the end of the current decade, the cost of treating diabetes in the United States is $113 billion. By the end of the new decade, this may increase to more than $200 billion, creating a serious strain on health resources.