Innovators conference gives glimpse into future of health care

The world of health care morphs rapidly.

Whether it's in the delivery, political, technical, research, employment or training perspective, change is a constant.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce's fourth annual Ashland Innovators Conference, held Friday at the Ashland Hills Hotel, examined the evolutionary swirl in a field accounting for one-seventh of the U.S. economy and one in six jobs in Jackson County.

"Health care, for better or worse, is a growing sector of our economy," said keynote speaker Joe Robertson, president of Oregon Health & Science University. "It's important for every community to make sure it gains its appropriate share of that sector, both for the health and well-being of the citizenry and also for the economic vitality of the community."

The industry's growing dependency on technology is among the mega trends reshaping health care.

"One of the things that a community has to do is to make sure it is preparing its workforce to meet that ever-increasing technological demand in the health care sector," Robertson said. "That means there will be many jobs added, not only in health care directly, but in sectors supporting health care."

Health care innovations, new discoveries and new businesses contribute to job growth, said Guy Tauer, a regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. In the Rogue Valley, physicians, dentists and therapists and their support staffs have grown 76 percent in the past 15 years, compared to 11 percent for all industries.

"There has been some consolidation within health care and insurance, but despite that consolidation we have seen tremendous growth in ambulatory health care services," Tauer said. "There are a lot of unknowns on what will happen, for example, with the Affordable Care Act and the changes at the federal level. Statewide, in Oregon we have seen an increase in the number of people insured so that the rate of uninsured has dropped in Oregon. Part of that is a result of expansion of state health insurance programs like expanded Medicaid."

Health care comprised 10 percent of the Jackson County economy in 2001. Since then it has grown to 14 percent. A growing population that is aging and needing more health care services is contributing to a health care employment concentration that is 13 percent greater than the nation as a whole.

"It's going to be one of our fastest-growing industries, adding about 2,400 jobs over the next 10 years, across a wide variety of occupations," Tauer said. "The proportion will continue to increase."

Registered nurses, nursing assistants, home health aides and medical assistants continually top lists of occupations with high future demand, as well as current hiring.

One unique way corporations are providing basic health care is by partnering directly with a primary care physician, and bypassing health insurance, said corporate wellness consultant Jill Yaconelli Franko from the Well Society.

"That way they can save on administrative and other costs that can be prohibitive to the employer," Franko said.

In turn, she said, that frees up money to pay employees more. On site clinics, bringing health care to the job has also gained traction.

"This provides more flexibility for employees and gives greater productivity to the employer without the employee having to leave work to go to doctor appointments," Franko said.

Opening the door to innovative ideas may well provide jobs and reduce costs for patients, said Sheila Clough, CEO of Asante Ashland Community Hospital.

"We can inspire people to be thinking about how they can bring additional business into this community," Clough said. "And perhaps create services and products, and change processes that will enhance health care delivery in the community even more. The more we look at innovating health care, the more we are going to help tackle some of the major challenges we have in the health care system."

As the industry shifts toward prevention, a broader range of skills is needed, said Oregon Tech professor Sophie Nathenson. As a result, OIT is developing interdisciplinary programs tying economics, public health, sociology, management and finance in order to address health outcomes.

"We have, for example, allied health profession students that are minoring in medical sociology getting that contextual knowledge, understanding where health care is going and how the landscape is changing," said Nathenson, who directs OIT's Population Health Management program. "Our population health management students are getting those technical skills from health informatics and geographic information systems. They're understanding how those fields come together to improve health outcomes."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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