The Affordable Care Act is transforming the healthcare system in America, yet higher education is lagging behind in transforming the way we teach our healthcare providers. The changes set forth by the ACA are not minute. Instead, they are nothing short of revolutionary, and the education system needs to change along with it.
With a shift from fee-for-service to value-based payment models, a move from treating individuals to treating populations, and a change in focus from sick-care to well-care, the changes taking place are drastic. Healthcare providers are having to figure out how to operate in a system that is completely different from the traditional healthcare system they are used to.
Some schools are now offering advanced degree programs in health informatics, health policy, healthcare delivery, economics, and information technology, which help to train healthcare providers to develop innovative approaches to performing healthcare in this new landscape.
Medical colleges are starting to expand their medical programs to include information about how to coordinate care and work with other healthcare providers, as well as how to provide more comprehensive, long-term, patient-centric care. They also are encouraging more general practitioners instead of putting such a large emphasis on specialists, since our new healthcare landscape will call for more primary care physicians.
Some medical schools are starting to include more preventative medicine in their curriculums, including more education on things like nutrition, fitness, wellness, sleep and even meditation. Edward Phillps, M.D., founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine (ILM) and Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, made the point that, “We’re eating too much, we’re still smoking, and we’re not getting enough exercise…All of that is being missed in medical education to a large degree.” With physicians being paid more based on outcomes than quantities of patients treated, teaching preventative care in medical schools is an important step that will not only ensure physicians are successful but will greatly improve the health of our nation.
It is critical that medical students understand the role lifestyle choices play in health. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, two-thirds of the diseases in the world will be the result of lifestyle choices. Medical schools need to teach motivational interviewing and behavior modification strategies so they can learn to understand their patients and the social determinants that influence or limit their ability to make healthy lifestyle choices.
A huge part of being able to prevent disease is being able to first predict what diseases a person is likely to end up with. Medical students need to learn to use prediction methods like genomic testing and biomarker blood testing to determine what diseases a patient is at risk of developing so that a personalized care plan can be created to reduce their risks.
Physicians will need to be able to motivate their patients to make healthy choices, which isn’t always an easy task, and they must be able to follow up with their patients to help keep them on track. This is something physicians haven’t typically learned in the past, and medical schools must get on board so that they can learn the strategies that are most effective for engaging patients.
Schools need to approach medical education from a more holistic stance and teach their students that when it comes to health, everything works together, from the food we eat to the exercise we get to the other choices we make in our daily lives. Traditional medicine has focused on specific parts of the body and learning a whole person approach to medicine is an entirely new way of thinking for many healthcare providers.
Medical schools have a lot of catching up to do, and students should make sure they are getting their education from forward-thinking colleges and universities. Without a change in healthcare education, our healthcare providers will not be able to meet the demands of the transforming healthcare industry.