Spokane Journal of Business

Innovative medical education key to health care’s future

Doctors trained to guide patients to better outcomes

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If you talk to any health care professional or any health care company, you will hear a common reprise of looking to the future of health care. There’s no doubt that everyone in the industry is looking toward revolutionary technologies and systems that will drastically improve the quality and value of care.

As the dean of a medical school, one of the biggest challenges I face is how to predict the health care landscape of the future and align it with the medical training of today to ensure we prepare future physicians for the next 40 years of practicing medicine.

One way to go about this is to engage the smartest minds in the industry—the CEOs of hospitals and clinics, the health care futurists, the researchers, and the inventors—and gain insights into what’s ahead.

What you find is that the future of health care rests in some exciting possibilities.

In technology and health care hubs across the country, new solutions are emerging rapidly that will revolutionize the way care is delivered and the resulting patient outcomes. Many technological advances are showing promise already. They include artificial intelligence, biosensors, autonomous robotic surgery, precision medicine, microdevices and computers in pill form, synthetic skin, and 3-D printing. These technologies have the potential to alter drastically the course of medicine as we know it and solve many of the problems we face today.

There’s no doubt that technology will be critical to changing our current system and finding our way to better health. While technology is a large piece of the puzzle, the future of health care rests in more than those solutions. Physicians always will have a role to play in medicine.

While technologies may alter the tasks physicians perform, they will never be able to replicate fully the unique role a physician plays in a patient’s life. This is where the role of innovation within medical education becomes critical to thinking about the future health care landscape.

The future of health care is training medical students to inspire and motivate their patients toward health. As precision medicine techniques enable deeper understanding into key biomarkers and genetics, physicians of the future will be able to help patients bridge the gap between raw data and real-life change that can produce better outcomes.

In addition, for physicians to motivate and inspire patients to develop healthy habits, they must appreciate their patients’ internal and external challenges, motivations, access to resources, and support networks.

Especially critical is accounting for how important a person’s mental health is to their overall physical well-being. Physicians of the future must put the whole patient at the center of the paradigm if we expect the patient to engage in the changes that will lead to healthier outcomes.

The future of health care is training medical students in the tenants of team-based care. As medicine shifts toward a model of collaboration between physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other important health care roles, physicians of the future must know how to engage with each member of the care team and leverage the strengths of each team member’s unique skill set to produce the best outcomes.

The future of health care is training medical students in leadership and entrepreneurship. It’s no longer enough for physicians to be the de facto leaders because of their MD degrees, nor is it enough to only solve the problems immediately in front of their eyes. Physicians of the future must serve as trusted and effective leaders in their medical practices and in their communities, and they must be equipped to solve bigger, systemic issues that often produce the symptoms and diseases they encounter in their patients.

The future of health care is training medical students with the latest technologies, giving them early exposure to these tools and how to think critically about the information these tools provide. After all, technology is valuable, but not infallible. While it may reduce errors, it will never be perfect.

If physicians don’t understand technology’s limitations or if they lose their ability to analyze data independently, they won’t be able to decipher when technology has created an inaccurate result. Physicians of the future must humbly accept the ways in which technology can produce greater patient outcomes yet know how to view the information with a critical eye.

Health care has great future potential, but realizing that potential also means being honest about the realities of today. Large systems are hard to unravel, and there always will be people and organizations who are invested in keeping things the way they are for convenience, profit, or simply because it’s the way we’ve always done it.

But there is hope. As Alan Kay once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Health care professionals, companies, and medical schools all have a unique opportunity today to invent a future where health care is more accessible, less expensive and leads to healthier lives.

To drive this home with our applicants, medical students, and my team, I often pose this question: “What would the future of health care look like if patients were empowered with all the skills and knowledge that doctors of today currently possess?” It is the answers to this question, the possible solutions and the implementation of these solutions that ultimately will create a future of health care we can be proud of.


Dr. John Tomkowiak is the founding dean of the Spokane-based Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

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