The United States health care field is undergoing many changes as consumers adjust to a new environment and, for the first time, providers face real competition. Analysts believe that consumers will soon receive relief from medical expense increases as the cost for health care services in the new Affordable Care operating environment stabilizes. Meanwhile, health care providers are learning more about consumers with newly available information sources while experiencing pressure from many sources to improve service and decrease costs. As patients wait for this to happen, large employers are doing their best to point employees toward the most cost-effective services available.
Health Care Reform Emerges From Infancy
A brief issued by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers reports consumer medical costs as leveling out.  Apparently, health care reform initiatives have effectively curbed increases – at least for the present. The consulting firm forecasts 6.5-percent cost growth in 2017 with a slight chance of a resumed upward trend.
Despite this seemingly positive outlook, medical costs still outpace consumer incomes. The analyst suggests that recent policy trends may not waylay exorbitant future costs. The report calls on care provider networks to continue to improve service and decrease out-of-pocket expenses. The following five trends represent a few of the major forces influencing health care related costs.
Trend 1: Care Providers Increase Technology Implementation
Pharmaceuticals are the most used benefit in the United States and present an opportunity for providers to improve consumer experiences.  In addition to digital pharmacies, health care networks are employing telehealth services, remote monitoring and mobile technology and, in effect, creating a virtual care environment.
Hospitals are responding to, and fueling, the technology trend by offering cutting-edge, in demand services. Many consumers want innovations that improve health and increase life spans, despite the inherent risks. As such, hospitals answer consumer desires with the latest in remote and robotic equipment. For now, providing physicians with every imaginable innovative device is a successful tactic.
Trend 2: Health Care Gets Personal
Care providers are maximizing the utility offered by pharmacological data to study consumers.  By shifting from population to personalized health care, providers improve patient outcomes.
Currently, most United States health care providers still deliver uniform services to all consumers. The practice, called the population model, delivers the same treatment to all individuals based on best practices.
Conversely, personalized health care offers customized solutions for each consumer. By employing preventative medicine and custom tailored services, physicians increase positive outcomes and offer consumers the best chance of overcoming illnesses.
Trend 3: The Bottom Line Has Shifted
Insurers and pharmacy benefit management plans are pressuring providers to improve outcomes and decrease expenses.  Pharmacies are in an especially advantageous position to produce this result through value-based reimbursement to providers. Successfully transitioning to this model requires collaboration between insurers, providers and consumers.
As the next generation pours into the United States health care system, sustaining traditional payment models is no longer viable. Health care expenses in the United States are twice that of many developed countries. Duly, the shift to value based payment models is a fortunate circumstance for American consumers, as patient outcomes now correlate to care provider profit.
Trend 4: Health Care Is Now a Consumer’s Market
Consumer demand is a powerful influence behind retail pharmacy decisions.  With increased out-of-pocket expenses, patients want more access to information allowing them to make decisions that are more informed. Providers improve consumer engagement by granting this access.
Contemporary patients expect medical transactions mimicking retail experiences. They want fast, convenience via online portals and customer service oriented interactions. Fulfilling this desire is increasingly important as health networks face competition from retail vendors. The competition will intensify as traditional care providers emphasize improved patient experiences to retain their consumer base.
Trend 5: Mega Health Networks Emerge
After the 2015 flood of health care networks consuming each other in mergers, competition will decrease and possibly ignite price hikes causing more consumers to opt for at home clinical and pharmaceutical services.  The trend started with the UnitedHealthcare acquisition of Catamaran Corporation, a pharmaceutical benefit management enterprise. The mergers continued as Aetna joined forces with Humana and Kaiser Permanente merged with Group Health Cooperative.
A McGraw Hill Financial/ Standard and Poor report suggests the mergers will result in improved services and geographic diversity. However, the analysts reserve judgment as to whether the mergers are beneficial until final legal and financial processes are established.
The Affordable Care Act replaces Medicare and Medicaid as the latest significant change in the United States medical field. The act has increased health care accessibility, while reducing the uninsured rate by 43 percent. Individually, however, consumers have met with mixed results, as lost health care coverage completely and other must pay substantially more. 
New payment models pressed into service by the reform allows care providers to focus more on patient outcomes rather than fiscal performance.
Despite these successes, more work remains. Special interests will continue lobbying to retain profits and slow reform. Therefore, current and future health care professionals must exercise increased diligence when advocating for patients to ensure the continued improvements prompted by Affordable Care reforms.
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