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Discussing the future of health care in Arkansas

The future of health care is a phrase that may mean different things to different people. To some may imagine a science fiction situation, perhaps robots doing a quick scan and quickly curing a disease. Or maybe something more low stakes, like a doctor's visit that doesn’t leave you in the waiting room for an hour. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is hosting two symposia– one in Little Rock and another in Fayetteville– to discuss health care innovations, media literacy to spot medical misinformation, and more. Dr.Shawn Dubravac will be the keynote speaker at both events. He’s a futurist, a trend caster, and economist that will be discussing the forces that will be defining the future of health care. We spoke last week over Zoom and before he started recording, he said he had an 8-month-old in the house and pre apologized in case she interrupted the interview. Dubravac says being a new dad shapes his view on all things related to the future and especially health care. 

Shawn Dubravac: In this country we have made incredible progress when it comes to health care. We have figured out how to treat and in some ways cure some very, very serious illnesses. We've broadly extended life over a long period of time, and at the same time, there's obviously a lot more that we can do. There are still lots of diseases out there that you know that we need to address. Also, it's clear that we are addressing a much wider spectrum of the human condition. And I think that's one of the great promises of health care is that it isn't just, you know, terminal illnesses we're looking at, but we're looking at all aspects of what it means to be human. We're looking at wellness, we're looking at mental health, we're looking at all aspects of health care and I'm excited about what the future brings and there's still a lot of work to do.

MM: Is there anything that sets apart Arkansas for you when it comes to the future of health care?

SD: I think Arkansas, like many states, it has unique issues and I think that's very important for everyone in Arkansas to recognize. We have obviously big national policies, we have kind of regional dynamics and those don't always align. And so it's very important to look at the unique aspects (of) what makes Arkansas unique because that will also play out in the health care needs. Arkansas has a mix of rural areas and more populated areas. Those have very different health care needs and will have very different health care needs moving forward in the future. I think the other thing to recognize is that none of this happens in a bubble. None of this happens in a silo that anything playing out in health care is colliding with other factors that are also playing out. So we have demographic shifts that are playing out. We have preference shifts that are playing out. Obviously as we look at Gen Z and then coming up behind them Gen Alpha, their preferences and how they interact with other people, certainly how they'll interact with the health care system, are different than our parents generation maybe then are your own generation different than the millennial generation. So each one of these has preferences that will influence and interact with some of these other forces that are playing out.

MM: I think one of the things I think about a lot I grew up in a pretty rural part of Illinois, and getting good reliable, consistent health care was a struggle that if you weren't going, you know, 2030 miles to the hospital to go visit your doctor, you just weren't getting any care done. And I think in rural places in Arkansas, we're seeing some of that as well. And I think in this immediate moment, we think telehealth is the answer to this right that we can just jump on a Zoom call and we can talk to our doctor and we can get some scripts and we can go to a but we also have to take into account that in order to do telehealth, you need to have broadband Internet access. And that's not always super available to. So the point I'm trying to get out here is that there's a combination of a lot of different factors that have to go into improving the future of health care in this way, right that it's not just offering the services but making sure that the infrastructure is available for it as well, right?

SD: I think you raise a really important aspect of the future of health care. It used to be that health care was on its own, that we would build a hospital or a clinic. We would staff it with health care professionals in that geographic region, in that area. And then we would deliver health care services for that region. Now telehealth opens up a new channel for delivering health care. We can, with a good broadband connection, we can provide health care services anywhere in the world and those health care services can be delivered ultimately could be delivered by anyone else in the world. And so that's a great democratization that connectivity and the Internet bring to all of us. But as you point out, we need to have good infrastructure. And it also opens up other challenges and I think that is whether we're thinking about the future broadly or specifically about health care. We need to recognize that there are these second order effects that kick in when we start to see changes. So while we're opening up opportunity, we also need to recognize that we could be creating challenges for certain areas, unique challenges in many ways. And we have to find solutions for those challenges, as well.

MM: As someone who's just spent a lot of time dealing with health care of having a new baby and seeing the inner workings of how insurance works in those sorts of things. It's really interesting to me to think about, and especially for someone like you who is a futurist, and you think about the economy, the struggle of making sure that health care is good, but how do you incentivize private companies? To want to invest in this? So how do you find that balance between we're making sure that the people that we're taking care of are taken care of but also incentivizing private businesses, and private health care and all of these private entities to continue offering this?

SD: We aren't yet where we need to be. But I also think that companies are beginning to realize that healthy employees are more productive employees and that healthy definition spans across a wide spectrum of conditions. So it isn't just that they're showing up at work, and that they're healthy enough, physically healthy, enough to show up at work. It's also that they're showing up in a way that is meaningful and that requires a more holistic approach to medicine and to health care. And I think businesses are recognizing that it isn't just about costs, but it's also about providing an environment and creating the right conditions to help my employees really show up in a way that allows them to make impact from day one, from start to finish.

MM: You're going to be speaking at the ACHI conference in Little Rock and up here in Northwest Arkansas, where I'm at, what sort of things can people expect to hear from you at this conference?

SD: We'll be talking about the forces that are defining the future and specifically what that means for health care, how these forces are going to materialize in kind of new ways of delivering health care, new types of health care. If you think of all the advances that we've seen in recent decades. I think we are just on the surface, we've only scratched the surface of what's to come. And that really will require thinking about health care in a totally new light. It is about bringing together technology and people in new ways. And so we'll be talking a lot about how this materializing in health care and what it means for the future.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
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