Diagnosis for 2010

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In 2010, winter will still mean flu season. Sick people will still be sneezing, shivering, and carrying a box of tissues with them wherever they go. But instead of trudging to the doctor's office for an examination and prescription (and the opportunity to sit with other sick, cranky people in the waiting room), there may be an easier way by then to get your doctor's attention - without leaving your bed: Log on to the Internet and access your "e-patient" medical records. Type in your symptoms, maybe even your latest temperature reading, and whisk off an e-mail to your doctor, asking her to examine your chart. The doctor will use a special security code to key into your vital information and decide what to do next - maybe recommend a visit to the office (if the symptoms warrant) or write a prescription for antibiotics. In this case, since the symptoms point directly to the flu, your doctor will probably order a prescription online from a local pharmacy that you have designated as your chosen provider, which will deliver the medicine right to your home. Mission accomplished - and you haven't moved from your bed all day.

E-business is only one factor that will alter the U.S. healthcare market during the next ten years, according to "Healthcast 2010: Small World, Bigger Expectations," a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago. The global consultancy interviewed and surveyed more than 400 healthcare executives in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Pacific Rim to determine the top drivers shaping the future of healthcare.

One in four U.S. respondents believe that by 2010, consumers will store their electronic medical records on Internet portal sites. And 89 percent of all respondents predict that in-office visits will decline during the next decade if physicians routinely offer Web-based consulting services to patients.

What else will influence tomorrow's healthcare system? Genetic mapping, for one. Genomics, the report contends, will "open markets for diagnostic testing, preventative medicines, follow-up treatments, and even support services such as lifestyle counseling."

Empowered consumers will also affect the industry. "The 2010 consumer will demand speedy, customized healthcare and will frequently turn to the Internet or other intermediaries to sift through or even broker these needs," says Sandy Lutz, author of the Healthcast 2010 report. Still, only 25 percent of the survey respondents agree that hospitals are prepared to serve patients who are becoming more knowledgeable about healthcare issues (thanks to the Internet) and better aware of new drugs (thanks to direct-to-consumer advertising).

Who will win down the road? Healthcare organizations that adopt consumer-friendly features, such as personalized interactions and simplified billing procedures, in their business strategies.

Copies of Healthcast 2010 are available online at www.pwcglobal.com/ healthcare, or by calling PricewaterhouseCoopers at (312) 701-5500.

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