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How 2011 Will Unfold in Healthcare

It’s the beginning of the year—an opportune time to forecast how 2011 will unfold in healthcare. We are likely to see some surprises, such as the sharply rising importance of primary care physicians.

Here are some predictions about the new year:

• More consolidation is on its way in healthcare under Obamacare, which heightens the pressure to improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery. As part of this, more and more healthcare provider groups, even the small ones, will feel compelled to go electronic once and for all.

• Valuable new, cost-effective medical tools will begin to be widely embraced. One is telemedicine. Just imagine how much more effective doctors can be if they interact with patients remotely via cameras. The technology exists now, has been successfully used in a number of situations, and is not expensive. Soon insurance reimbursement models will permit and remunerate physicians for telemedicine “visits,” and then this will take off.

• The use of genetic testing to segment patient populations and better target therapies will be one of the fastest growing segments of healthcare as a new wave of accurate, clinically actionable tests hits the market.

• As health reform increasingly kicks in, there will be heightened emphasis on the importance of primary care physicians—a sharp contrast to the elevated importance of specialists for so many years. They will become the lynchpins of health care and make more pivotal care decisions as more than 30 million more people enter the healthcare system and require access to them.

• Time-saving technologies that lead to measurably better outcomes—such as shorter hospital stays, faster surgeries, and fewer complications—will fare well in 2011.

• Contrary to the opinion of countless skeptics, new California Governor Jerry Brown will be surprisingly effective and will fix many of the state’s woes. Under Brown, taxes will rise and spending will be far more controlled, and much of the crisis will finally be resolved. Why? Brown has been governor before and knows the ropes. And at the age of 72, he cares primarily about his legacy. What better legacy could he leave than being the man who fixed California’s seemingly insurmountable problems?

• I gleaned additional insight into Jerry Brown shortly after he was elected mayor of Oakland. He came to a reception hosted by Nat Goldhaber and to celebrate the IPO of startup Cybergold. Nat is another founder of Claremont Creek Ventures. I brought one of my children, then a baby, and asked Brown to pose with him for a picture. “I don’t do babies,” he responded. That was telling, and in a very good way. Brown is iron-willed man who does what he wants and what he thinks is best, not what he is told. He won’t be dissuaded from fixing California.

[Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of posts from Xconomists and other technology and life sciences leaders from around the U.S. who are weighing in with the top surprises they’ve seen in their respective fields in the past year, or the major things to watch for in 2011.]

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