One future of education: Health Care Nation

What would education look like if the medical sector becomes the largest part of American society and economics?  I call this scenario: Health Care Nation.*

In this future, the medical sector has become the leading U.S. industry, eclipsing all others.  By 2021-2025 health care generates 30 percent or more of gross domestic product, employing huge numbers of workers. Medicine occupies a greater presence in society than historically, with towns and cities having more clinics, hospitals, drugstores, medical supply stores, and labs than in the past.  The roots of this transformation were already visible by 2004-2014.

Map of largest employer per state

This is as of 2013. Extrapolate it forward a decade. And be sure to click for the elegant visualization.

How did this occur?

  1. The proportion of the population over 65 years old is the largest ever. Statistically, this age group consumes more health care than others.
  2. The complex, even Byzantine funding structure of health care involved ever-increasing amounts of bureaucracy, staffing, and financing (both public and private). As explained by Bowen and Baumol’s cost disease economic model, the efficiency of automation is limited in some professions, and applies here, as much of health care requires the extensive time of sometimes expensive professionals.
  3. Medical treatment improvements have extended lifespans, leading to a still larger senior population, along with the appearance of new ailments requiring more care.

Campuses in Health Care Nation have many academic programs and many people devoted to medicine. There are more medical schools than in 2014. Degrees in fields like nursing, surgery, radiology, gerontology, sports medicine, and hospital administration have been initiated or expanded. Students take more medically-related classes than ever. In 2024 more of those students are women, given the historical prevalence of women in many health care fields, contributing to an already established feminization of higher education.

On the logistical/support side, campus IT needs have grown as well in order to support the significant and increasing needs of technology-dependent medical fields, from digital imaging to telemedicine to 3d printing of machine and body parts. Campuses have space-sharing agreements with regional clinics and hospitals in order to better place students and graduates while also partaking of the medical sector’s financial and political clout.

Beloit College's student mindset project
What do eighteen-year-olds think when they enter Health Care Nation as first-year college students? A significant number of them have taken pre-pre-med and related classes in high school. For them, medical heroes (researchers, inventors, star practitioners, e.g. Craig Venter) loom as large as sports figures. And many of the students are already familiar with elder-care practices from their childhood and teenage years.

Now it’s your turn, dear reader.  If Health Care Nation comes to pass, how will your life and work change?  Is this likely to occur?  What other details should we bear in mind?

*A version of this scenario will appear in a forthcoming EDUCAUSE Review article.  Many thanks to the kind ER editor for letting me jump the gun.

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10 Responses to One future of education: Health Care Nation

  1. I like scenario planning, but I think the curve for health care growth has been bent and growth will slow, consolidation will occur, digitalization will (eventually) bring greater efficiency, making this less likely to happen than this scenario suggests. On the other hand, if I make it to 2030 I will probably be living in my own Health Care Nation…

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    • Personally, Michael, I hope you’re right about the cost curve being bent downwards. That was a major aim of the ACA, and would certainly make my life easier.
      However. The data isn’t clear about the ACA’s impact. And cf the rest of the post for non-insurance-related cost drivers.

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  2. Gabor says:

    This model assumes no major disruption in what you called “Byzantine” structure of healthcare. I wouldn’t make that assumption. As an immigrant to the US I thought of this country as much more pragmatic than the Europeans I was familiar with. It even has a tradition of and pride in finding user-friendly solutions. So, on the long run I would like to think that the US will find a pragmatic (series of) solution to this impossible bureaucracy.

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    • I very much hope you’re right, Gabor. Personally, that would make my life easier. Nationally, it would be a big improvement.
      I’m not sure it’ll happen, though. First, the power of inertia is mighty. Second, the insurance firms have enormous political clout.

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