Health Leaders Look to 2032 for Opportunities to Improve the Health of the Nation

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act, health care in the next 20 years will need leadership that embraces community needs and new roles to care and guide individuals across a more data-driven, accountable U.S. health system.

That was a consensus reached by health leaders brought together this week by the Foundation for an intensive two-day symposium in Kansas City to explore the future of health and health care in 2032.

Though the high court’s decision looms large, the Justices’ coming ruling was barely acknowledged by the diverse group of more than 50 leaders from across the national health spectrum. The group included clinicians, academics, entrepreneurs and business executives from employers that ranged from Google to IBM.

Rather, the leaders delved into different scenarios and each other’s expertise to come up with guidance for the nation on how to pursue opportunities and create workable health solutions in the next two decades. The symposium was put together as part of RWJF’s 40th anniversary celebration. The Foundation engaged the Institute for Alternative Futures, a nonprofit research and educational organization, to lead the scenario modeling and develop recommendations for the nation.

The working group identified four key areas for focus:

  • Develop new health roles beyond just traditional medical care professionals and public health providers;
  • Focus the health-tech sector on developing community health metrics;
  • Cultivate new leadership for a healthy society; and
  • Remove barriers to achieve better health outcomes and quality.

By this fall, RWJF and the Institute plan to publish a more detailed report on the recommendations that will include more details from discussions and additional input from the group. Attendees expect the final report to be useful for the public at large.

“It’s good to suspend reality and to be thinking creatively and have hope for the future with such a group of really smart stakeholders from such diverse backgrounds,” said symposium participant Dr. Kyu Rhee, vice president of integrated health services at IBM.

For two days, attendees considered four different scenarios for the year 2032. They grappled with new approaches on how to get a public considered unhealthy and costly to the system to become more educated, engaged and embrace new holistic approaches to health.

As one example, the recommendation to develop and enhance new health roles had attendees excited about new possibilities for the work force to not only care for, but guide people to better health.

Some attendees said it could also bring in new employment opportunities to communities given the booming population of aging baby boomers. These new jobs could include lay people, less skilled health workers or even health system data integration workers who could guide people through the complex system and on to better health.

“There’s not enough training going on,” said Dr. Mohit Kaushal, executive vice president of business development and chief strategy officer for West Wireless Health Institute. “As baby boomers age, more training will be needed.”

Another attendee referred to the need to enhance health roles as a “pipeline issue.” New models of care such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) that will move away from fee-for-service medicine, have already led hospitals and clinics to hire more nurses to be “care managers.”

Attendees also said new leadership will be needed to build bridges and find solutions. Some attendees, for example, talked about holistic and alternative care approaches by the military that have shown to improve care of servicemen and veterans yet have not been applied in the general population. Those avenues should be explored, symposium attendees said.

The future should also include voices beyond just health and health care, several attendees said, agreeing there needs to be better education and communication among all parties in the health system and their communities because they are not talking to each other or sharing data, let alone using it.

“It’s much broader than just health care,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation told her fellow symposium attendees. “It’s coming up with a new way of speaking to the relevant parties.”

In putting together the symposium and coming up with the recommendations, the leaders in attendance and the nation at large can use the information to apply a futures perspective to their work. And at this moment in history, with Washington often at a partisan standstill, attendees were happy to look ahead.

“We can all get so fixated on the next two years, so it’s good to sit back and look ahead to the future,” IBM’s Dr. Rhee said in an interview after the symposium. “No matter what side you are on, the Supreme Court decision can be de-motivating for some so it’s good to come together and look ahead to the next 20 or 40 years.”

NOTE: a website has been set up to capture the ideas and images which were generated at the Kansas City meeting

Bruce Japsen is an independent health care journalist who attended the two-day symposium as a journalist in residence. He writes a health care business and policy blog for Forbes at He also contributes health care stories to the New York Times, Chicago Medicine magazine and teaches writing at Loyola University Chicago.

Related Report

Health and Health Care in 2032

Health leaders convened by the Foundation for an intensive two-day symposium in Kansas City explored the future of health and health care in 2032.

Read the report >