Anne Beal on the Future of Healthcare

The future of healthcare isn’t just about research and technological advancements. According to Anne Beal, Chief Patient Officer at Sanofi, the future of healthcare is all about the patient. As healthcare professionals embrace their roles as members of a customer-facing industry, the focus of providing care will shift away from output and toward the patient’s experience throughout their healthcare journey.

What are your thoughts about the future of healthcare?

I have worked in health policy, I have worked in think tanks – I have worked in all these environments, and I have actually experienced these changes in what the concept of healthcare should be. When my father was sick, I would often leave these important healthcare meetings to be with him at his bedside, and I found that there was this huge gap between our aspirations and the reality of what was happening in the hospital. So, when I think about the future, I think about these aspirations coming to fruition. I’ve seen some glimpses of this in some places, but I would like to see these changes implemented universally.

How have your thoughts and understanding about the healthcare system changed as your career has progressed?

When I started as a clinician, I wanted to be that doctor who takes great care of patients. But I soon realized that I was one doctor working in a system that was fundamentally dysfunctional. So then I said: “okay, I’ll move on to broader issues.” I decided to go into health policy, where I saw real opportunity. I think the best manifestation of that opportunity was the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I think this will be the biggest thing since the passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Act of 1965. I think we will not fully understand the impact of this legislation for a number of years.

However, I soon found that politics are often involved in the policy side of things, so I felt a little bit of frustration – you want to move in a particular way, but you can’t often move as quickly as you would like. So then I decided to work for a private sector entity that would be more agile. They are very clear on what they are trying to do, and they recognize that the customer is the patient and how important that is. That’s what has brought me here. There is a constant evolution to my thinking, and I would say that at every step along the way there is something good, but there is also something that is a gap, which then takes me elsewhere in terms of my own work.

Where do you see the market moving in the next 15 years? How do you see the evolution of patienthood progressing?

I think there is a growing dissatisfaction that patients have in terms of healthcare, and it has to do with a combination of cost, customer service, and the health outcomes that patients are seeing. I constantly hear the cocktail discussion of “oh, I had this experience that was just not satisfactory,” and I think in some ways we should start by recognizing that the physician is not at the center of healthcare – the patient is. The patient is our customer, if you will. We need to start taking on a customer mindset in terms of how we interact and engage with patients and how we have them deal with the healthcare system. We should think about how we serve their needs. Yes, there is the science, and yes, there are the outcomes – there is all of this. But at the end of the day, it is a service industry, and I think we need to take on a service mindset.

You said a while earlier that we won’t know for years the impact of The Affordable Care Act. Where will we be 100 years from now in terms of patient-as-consumer acting as the center of care?

I think a good comparison is banking. When was the last time you actually went into a bank and talked to a teller? You now do your banking as an integral part of your daily life without having to go to the bank. I would like to see the same thing for healthcare. I want the system to work in such a way that drones can deliver my meds to me and I can monitor myself. Obviously, I will still need a physician and I will need to be examined, but it will not be the same onerous experience that most people endure now.

This kind of system would change a lot of things. For example, how would physicians be paid? If I’m a doctor, and you pay me to see a patient, I am going to have that patient come in for every reason that I can. That might be pretty damn inconvenient for you as a patient, but it is going to help me with my bottom line. If incentives are aligned in a different way and a population-based approach is used, then it changes things for me as a provider in terms of how I am going to deliver my service to patients. If I as a provider am paid for my customer service, I am going to have a very different mindset in terms of how I approach you.

If I am held accountable for outcomes and not for how many times I see you, then I will have a very different mindset in terms of how I interact and engage with you. And if those outcomes are things like customer service, patient engagement, satisfaction with utilities, and getting your questions answered, and I’m paid for that, then the system and the market will respond in terms of how I interact and engage with patients.

When you think of this kind of decentralized, customer-oriented care, what does it make you feel about the future? Are you hopeful? Are you concerned?

I feel very positive generally for the future, but I have a lot of concerns. There is a profound dissatisfaction that clinicians have with their jobs and with their work. People are leaving the healthcare profession in droves – particularly primary care. And at the end of the day, it is going to be the primary care provider who, as patients become much more complex, is really going to be able to provide coordination of care for patients with multiple medical needs.

But if primary care is not valued, if it’s not reimbursed, if it’s not an aspirational profession, then I think we are going to have a serious shortage within this country. This is something that really concerns me. In fact, studies have shown that when you have more primary care providers, outcomes are better and the costs of healthcare are lower. So I think part of the thing we need to do is think of a shift in terms of how we demonstrate the value of primary care and delivery of primary care services.

What factors will impact the future of patienthood? Other than the number of primary care practitioners, are there other elements that you think should be addressed now to prepare for the future?

There is definitely the issue of the workforce, and there is definitely the issue of incentives. Healthcare practitioners are and have been paid based upon volume, and now there is a shift to a focus on outcomes. I think this is going to be a huge benefit to patients. But what we are not yet focused on are issues such as ease of use. We don’t have a full understanding of how to engage and partner with patients, and I think because it is such a regulated industry, we have to start thinking outside the box. I don’t see why a patient can’t use an app and a drone comes to the front door with a refill of their medication. I don’t see why we can’t do that right now.

Do you think women play a different role in the healthcare system than men?

As women, we tend not only to think about ourselves, but about our families, our children, our employees. Women tend to be the caregivers for their families. They tend to also be the ones who help their family members navigate the healthcare system. Women are probably larger consumers of healthcare than men. Women also drive the men in their lives, whether their fathers, spouses, sons, or uncles – oftentimes, it is the woman who is pushing that these men to use the healthcare system. I think women have a greater awareness of healthcare needs than men, or maybe they’re just more invested because they are often the arbitrators of healthcare utilization for their families.

What are the most significant transformations that need to occur, and what are the barriers that will need to be overcome?

I think whatever technology we need is already out there. I think the lack of patient orientation is keeping us from taking what currently exists and really aligning it to improve patient outcomes. When I look at all the medical apps that are already out there, they are there to inform the physician, inform the family member, or to help patients monitor themselves. But if you were to ask a patient what their single biggest challenge is for managing their diabetes or addressing their cancer, I’m not sure they would say journaling or monitoring. I think the biggest challenge we have right now is that we are not customer focused. We are not patient-centric, so every solution we come up with makes it easier for the doctor, the payer, the pharmacist – everybody except for the patient. I actually think that if even without any new technology, there would still be lots of room for innovation.

Read the full feature, The Future According to Women HERE

the author

Ryan Doyle

Ryan Doyle is head of health delivery at Idea Couture. See his full bio here.