We are living through an era of rapidly accelerated social, political, and environmental change. Spiraling costs of medical care, consumer activism around health care delivery, an aging population, and growing evidence of climate change are just some of the big currents of change. These trends are national and global in scope, and as such, far beyond any one profession or sector to shape or control. It remains for the medical profession to understand the currents of the time and adapt in order to thrive in the future.
Regulatory environment in flux
Hospitals and clinicians continue to struggle with a regulatory framework designed to improve higher quality of care yet may be creating additional barriers to access and efficiency. The passionate debate about health care costs and coverage is ongoing at the national level and appears to be a central issue on the minds of voters. Although the outcome of the debate cannot be foreseen, it will be left to the medical profession to maintain standards of care. Although the Affordable Care Act may not be repealed, the federal government’s role may diminish as policy is likely to be made by state politicians and bureaucrats.1 As a result, organizations operating in multiple states may find it difficult to develop organization-wide business strategies. And with the shift to value-based reimbursement and issues related to data breaches regarding private patient health care information, many health care professionals will need better support and documentation tools to remain compliant. This puts a large burden on medical organizations to invest even more in information technology, data management systems, and a wide range of training up and down the organizational chart. Keeping up with the needs of physicians for secure data management will be costly but critical.
Patients will feel climate change
Environmental factors affecting the air we breathe are of primary concern for patients with a broad range of cardiorespiratory conditions.2 Healthy but vulnerable infants, children, pregnant women, and the elderly may also feel the effects.3 Air pollution, increased levels of pollen and ground-level ozone, and wildfire smoke are all tied to climate change and all can have a direct impact on the patients seen by chest physicians.4 Individuals exposed to these environmental conditions may experience diminished lung function, resulting in increased hospital admissions.
Keeping up with the latest research on probable health impacts of these environmental trends will be on the agenda of most chest physicians.5 Professional societies will need to prepare to serve the educational needs of members in this regard. Continuing education content on these topics will be needed. The field will respond with new diagnostic tools and new treatments.6 Climate change may be a global-level phenomenon, but for many chest physicians, it means treating increasing numbers of patients affected by pulmonary disease.
Mind the generation gap
The population in the United States is primarily under the age of 65 years (84%), but the number of older citizens is on the rise. In 2016, there were 49.2 million people age 65 or older, and this number is projected to almost double to 98 million in 2060. The 85-and-over population is projected to more than double from 6.4 million in 2016 to 14.6 million in 2040 (a 129% increase).7