Modern Factors Determining the Future of Healthcare

Author:
Aleksandar Ilić

Being one of the most turbulent years in the last few decades, 2020 brought life changing events on a global scale. The outcome is still uncertain, but the implementation of some old-new solution to the functioning models in various industries seems very likely. Notably, in healthcare, the change might occur more unexpectedly and rapidly than previously anticipated. 

The long-known concept of healthcare is pretty straightforward, where individuals or organizations are purchasing a service that mitigates their risk in the event of an unforeseen difficulty. Unlike many other insurance industries (where payout doesn’t come as often), health insurance policyholders use their insurance more frequently. This is one of the reasons why governments of some countries, like the United States, are unable to provide the universal health care coverage system for all citizens due to the enormous tax rates that this would cause. On the other hand, some countries, like Canada, have showed an extremely good approach in dealing with these problems and have made their health care policy among the most prosperous ones in the world. 

Prior to 2020, the strengths and weaknesses of countries’ healthcare systems were solely judged by those in an immediate need for them. The COVID-19 pandemic has in a very short time exposed the best and worst parts of every system – properly described with the quote: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen”. The direct impact of COVID-19 and accompanying events on the healthcare industry has just begun, and it is likely that deeper, systemic issues have yet to show in full force. 

Factors and potential challenges involved in healthcare changes and adaption to the post-pandemic world include realities of complex and slow-to-change policies, alongside environmental and technological factors. To predict how the healthcare system will evolve and how the COVID-19 crisis will directly influence it prospectively requires understandings of breath of facts including those about the healthcare industry’s current condition policies around the world, and how systems reacted to the crisis. 

Perception

The perception/overall understanding of the healthcare system is the first barrier to fixing any issues associated with it. Today’s healthcare system is a “sickcare” system – built not to care about the prevention of the disease, but to react to the diseases and illnesses when they occur. This approach has remained largely unchanged since its beginning in the 1950s, resulting in further issues emerging from the lack of reforms through this period, and the inability to deal with the, then non-existent, huge growth of chronic diseases, which now represents over 80% of all healthcare spending. These statistics just emphasize the need for healthcare to adapt to the changes of social needs and social realities. 

Expected changes to the perception will likely come from the industry’s side first, meaning that the emphasis should be given on the preventative health and patient’s wellness, rather than threating symptoms and diseases. Upon the change of the overall perception, the process of engagement needs to change as well. Promoting a healthy lifestyle only by words is not enough. For example, most people who smoke know that it is bad for their health, so further emphasis without a concrete solution is ineffective. Truly engaging them, along with providing the right technology (which will be discussed later), can be the right catalyst to success. This represents a nonstop connection between the patient and those healthcare professionals who are monitoring them. 

Technology

Following the first step, which is to improve the perception, the buildup towards a better healthcare system is pointed to the adoption and adaptation of technology. This adaptation for the healthcare industry will come naturally when the perception of the industry changes and the demand for  preventive devices in medicine becomes higher. Luckily, in recent years, technology has had a much greater and more rapid ascent in medicine, resulting in extraordinary global health results in the past decades and with an expected upward trajectory in the years to come. 

The rise of technology comes in various forms, including both cutting-edge technologies, as well as broadly accessible health devices. For example, companion robots are a well-known innovation in medical technology. They move around the room, verbally communicate with staff patients, and can solve the problem of solitude that can be seen with older people. It is important though to understand that these robots are just a part of the solution, not the solution itself, which is why the future of healthcare will be impacted by robots working alongside humans augmenting care. This is not to say that cutting-edge equipment is solely correlated to the wellbeing of the patient. On the contrary, the implementation of the basic health monitoring devices by the insurance industry could have a significant effect on the quality of patient’s life. Great devices that can get us to know more about ourselves and retake control over our lives (i.e., devices that monitor sleep or track steps) could bring and immense change in the way we deal with our healthcare. 

Digitalization

Additional pertinent aspects of the technology in the healthcare space are the reference tools, prescriptions, and medication reconciliation that have largely gone from paper to digital devices in most developed countries. Mobile technologies allow physicians quick access to reference tools such as medication reference guides, treatment protocols and medical calculators. This is helping reduce the time-consuming processes of decision-making by significantly minimizing the time needed from, say, drug-drug interactions or correct dosages. This makes e-prescribing, for example, more convenient for both patients and clinicians. 

In fact, the global digital health market is expected to reach a valuation of more than $234 billion by 2023, up from 2019’s estimated $147 billion, according to the new Frost & Sullivan report. This rising trend is due to the ongoing transition toward a model of value-based care of the healthcare industry. 

Artificial Intelligence

Technology’s impact on healthcare can’t be discussed without the mention of artificial intelligence (“AI”). The World Economic Forum predicts AI to be widely used to reveal currently unknown patterns in diseases, care and treatments by 2030. The key categories of applications involve diagnosis and treatment recommendations, patient engagement and administrative activities. In today’s world, AI is mostly used in healthcare to assist providers like radiologists to mark files, including low priority X-rays, resulting in a quicker and more precise process. 

AI’s potentially largest benefit is the ability to help people stay healthy in the first place, which we discussed to be an important change that needs to be implemented in the perception. AI could lead to doctors not being needed as much in the healthcare industry due to the prevention of many diseases. Additionally, the AI industry will have the ability to assist healthcare professionals to better understand day-to-day patterns and the needs of the people that they look after and, in that way, keep them healthy and away from hospital medical care. 

In conclusion, developing technologies are providing several avenues for improvements of the healthcare industry, however, the efforts should be made that such improvements are in line with other development efforts, including the perception of the industry and the shift from reactive to preventative care. 

COVID-19

It is estimated that by the end of 2021, 4 billion vaccine doses against COVID-19 will be delivered around the world. Three target groups are: the healthcare workforce, adults above 65, and about 45% of adults with comorbidities. Pharmaceutical companies are already expected to extensively collaborate for manufacturing, supply chain requirements, post-surveillance studies and storage needs. These efforts will increasingly change the business and logistics sides of working with the ill. Also, the newly occurred pandemic could be the cause of the perception and technology aspects of the healthcare systems to finally start working together and begin the reformative process. 

The most dramatic, yet obvious, impact that this pandemic will have on an average person is a profound influence on behavioral health. There are 110 million cases of positive COVID-19 tests around the world so far, which means that around 1.43% of the world’s population has directly faced the disease. The uninfected majority of the population is also heavily affected by the disease, even though they never contracted it directly. The collective mental agony, the losses of cherished members of family, economic problems caused by the pandemic, and the pressure to make changes of the social contact have increased incidents of deep depression, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD. This trend will cause the need for the management of behavioral health symptoms to drive an increase in the digital therapeutic market by 2023, expecting to reach $1.5 billion in the U.S. alone. 

Considering this data, it becomes very clear that COVID-19 virus will accelerate the adoption of health and virtual care around the globe. Healthcare industry will embrace new and emerging technologies that will lead to healthcare delivery not to be restricted to hospitals alone.

Policies

Policies are the main drive of social change. They strive to not only develop and raise a standard, but to enhance people’s lives. Policies emerge due to societal problems, and therefore have an aim in solving them. Considering the implications of our healthcare future amidst these difficult and unpredictable times, policies should focus on the three main ideas that define this sector: perception, technology and COVID-19. The chain reaction of these three factors could lead to the final change, which is the implementation of the right policies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the central importance of a well-functioning healthcare system. Nations that ensure affordable, efficient, and equitable access to quality care are at a clear advantage when it comes to mitigating the virus and adapting to the newly occurred circumstances. For instance, Canada has a decentralized, universal, publicly funded health system. Insurance is run at the province level and many Canadians have supplemental private insurance through their jobs that helps them pay for prescription drugs, dentists and optometry. In hindsight, the public sector and private sector account for approximately 70% and 30% of total health expenditures, respectively.  

The United States, on the other hand, is a mix of many different ideas. This is a mix of public and private, for-profit and nonprofit insurers and health care providers, where public and private insurers set their own benefit packages and cost-sharing structure, within federal and state regulations. Its healthcare system consists of private insurance through employment, single-payer Medicare mainly for those 65 and older, state-managed Medicaid for many low-income people, private insurance through exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, as well as about 18 million Americans without any health insurance at all. Hospitals, as well, are mostly under private ownership. 

To compare these two, for example, the US’s health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 16.9% in comparison to Canada’s 10.7%, and per person spending is $13,722 for an average American compared to $6,448 for an average Canadian, from the 2018 data. Having these two, very similar countries in certain aspects, with such different healthcare systems, is an interesting way to show that this final step (having the right policy) of the process to change the industry is the most important one, as it is the one that finally makes the difference after all the other steps have made their impact. 

 

Conclusion

COVID-19 forced us to abruptly recognize the pitfalls of healthcare systems around the world. Without a clear solution, and understanding that the changes are necessary, the scene is set for a new, better system. Some of the proposed solutions include a shift in perception and adaption of developing technology, but it is important to note that no single factor is sufficient to offset the vast despair that COVID-19 has brought. Instead, concerted efforts including a combination of the proposed factors are needed. Evidently, by realizing how these four elements (perception, technology, COVID-19 and policies) are closely connected, it is clearly possible that in the years to come the new and advanced approach towards the healthcare system will be a reality. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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