Famous futurist encourages visitors at NAHC to anticipate change
by Hannah Wolfson

Technological and other change is exponentially changing the world of homecare, and it’s the responsibility of the industry’s leaders to anticipate and leverage it, futurist Jack Uldrich told visitors at the National Association of Healthcare & Hospice’s conference and expo on Monday, Oct. 14.

At his keynote address at the session in Seattle, Washington, he listed dozens of cutting-edge health care and other technologies that could significantly alter people’s ability to receive—or give—care at home and even to live longer.

“Just because you might not like this future or you fear it, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” said Uldrich, who has written 11 books and speaks frequently on the impacts of emerging technology.

As an example of the pace of change, Uldrich showed a photo of a New York City street before the turn of the century with just a single automobile surrounded by horse-drawn carriages.

“If you were in the horse industry, your world is about to change very quickly,” he said, before flipping to another image, taken just a few years later, with the street full of cars.

“We’re all in the horse industry,” he said. “We’re going to see a staggering amount of change in the next decade and we’re going to need to be aware of it.”

A number of those advances will come from existing retailers and technology companies looking to edge into the aging market, Uldrich said. He cited a wide range of examples—iPhone’s advances with the Apple Watch, which can detect falls and take echocardiograms; Walmart’s explorations into blockchain and pharmacy; and even Best Buy’s recent announcement that it plans to serve 5 million people in their homes in the next five years.

“Other companies are looking at your industry,” he said. “Apple is not dumb. They see the sales of the iPhone going down. They want to make money in the future. They want to make money by going into your industry.’

He listed a number of other cutting-edge examples of advances that may impact or be translated into homecare, including:

  • Amazon Go’s Seattle grocery store, where people can shop and pay automatically, an experience that might impact customer expectations in the home.
  • Rapid increases in internet bandwidth allowing remote surgeries and other medical procedures.
  • Virtual reality potentially being used—and experiments in place now—for everything from chronic pain relief to remote physical therapy to nurse training in universities.
  • The use of 3D printers to create everything from hearing aids to food or personalized edible supplements for patients.
  • The use of drones to deliver medication, which UPS just launched in a pilot, and driverless cars to deliver groceries, as advertised by the Kroger chain.
  • Robots and other automations hospitals are exploring to reduce clinical staff workload.
  • Advances is gene sequencing other medical technology that could allow people to diagnose, treat, and eliminate common diseases.
  • Smart medications—that is, pills with tracking devices—that could inform a caregiver remotely if they weren’t taken properly.

Some of these advances might come from other industries, such as robotic suits, currently being tested for warehouse employees, that could be adapted for homecare providers to use lifting patients.

“We’re going to be using these tools to be doing things fundamentally differently and you need to be prepared for it,” Uldrich said.

In an example that drew giggles from the audience, he explained that Amazon and Kohler are working together to create a “smart toilet” that could eventually be used to check a user’s biomarkers.

“I need you to open your mind to what is going to be possible in the future. It might seem a little weird but it’s also really really exciting,” he said. “It’s incumbent on us as leaders to start thinking about these trends and how we can leverage them.”

His recommendation was that leaders in home health care and hospice should take time each week to contemplate future possibilities, and look to young people to mentor those with experience to gain a different viewpoint.

“Because we have only seen our industry—home health care, hospice—from one perspective, we think that’s the only way of seeing it,” he said.

“That’s not where the future of homecare and hospice is going to come from,” he continued. “It’s not going to come from thinking about today or next week. It’s going to come from thinking about the future.”