Digital Health Trends

The Future of Health

February 26, 2019

Health is always undergoing change, as is our understanding of disease. From the latest new therapeutic breakthroughs, which can treat the previously untreatable, to innovations that can control drug spending, such as point of care diagnostics and lower-cost follow-on biosimilars, what is new today, will certainly be old by tomorrow. Those actors in the health space are well-aware of the need to innovate as disruptors, or they risk being disrupted from an increasing number of unlikely sources.

Health care continues to evolve, but must do so faster

The health sector has always been at the cutting edge of scientific discovery, yet how health care is delivered to patients has been slower to keep pace. Health care systems have traditionally focused on place-based care rather than keeping patients well and out of hospital. We are now starting to see health systems’ perverse payment methods starting to reward outcomes rather than activity and technological advances are helping to drive this evolution.

The Robot Doctor will see you now

To predict what the future of health could look like in 2030, companies must understand how patient preferences are evolving and driving innovation. The advent of tech savvy patient ‘consumers’ – the ‘TripAdvisor generation’ – have growing expectations, at a time of increasing need and cost which has impeded the acceleration of innovation seen by other industry sectors. Health cost inflation is a global challenge and driven by an ageing chronically ill population compounded by out of date health system architectures designed for the past, not the future. This is compounded by increasingly expensive, yet more efficacious technologies and therapies which require ever more specialist trained clinicians to administer them.

The new paradigm of health that is needed to address these existential challenges will impact how we all interact with health care in the future and dictate how they need to be planned for by governments and system administrators. A focus on active wellness will keep patients healthy and out of hospitals through population health initiatives and advances in genomic and metabolomic health profiling and early remote diagnostics; the utilization of precision and stratified medicines when illness does strike will provide improved life expectancy and quality of life; while smart hospitals that embrace  advances in AI, automation, robotics and the internet of things will deliver capacity and productivity improvements that allow doctors to give patient consumers what they want – more time with the clinician to talk through their treatment and improve their experiences of care.

The next ten years will ultimately shape the next twenty years of health care and will be characterized by:

  • Technology that empowers patients will continue to be in demand –Technological advancements from wearables to services that allow you to video conference with your doctor are here to stay. What will be interesting to watch is how these types of technologies interact with each other and most importantly how and if they get reimbursed.
  • Non-traditional players in health –From Amazon to Uber, more consumer-focused companies are entering the space, using their knowledge of consumer preferences to shape and solve the biggest challenges in health, such as the spread and management of non-communicable diseases.
  • Infrastructure digitization will make hospitals smarter and less relevant for routine care – wearables and remote technologies will keep chronically ill patients out of hospital, while smart hospitals will offer an improved and safer experience, using automated technologies and physician technicians to help control health costs.
  • Technological advances will herald a new era of R&D & Drug production – the challenges inhibiting pharmaceutical discovery in hard to solve areas such as Alzheimer’s will be solved through advances in AI, machine learning and automation, allowing for higher volume research potentially in increasing public private partnerships; while continuous manufacturing technologies could ultimately bring the cost of medicines production down.
  • Scrutiny on Industry will continue, but regulation will need to evolve with the technology – Health costs keep rising as well as expectations of all companies to act as corporate citizens. The health industry, in particular, is under intense pressure to continue to deliver innovative solutions, while striking the balance of serving shareholders and patients. At the same time, medicines regulations, ethical considerations and health economic modelling will have to undergo similar evolution if innovation is to progress from the bench to the bedside. 

Agility is the key to success

Regardless of where companies are working in the health care landscape, to stay ahead, they will need agility. Success usually follows those who innovate, or at least those with the vision to capitalize on an evolving landscape. Amazon is testament to this – the online bookseller that branched out and embraced the e-commerce revolution has evolved beyond providing consumer goods and services into one of the newest entrants in the health care arena, though its tie-up with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway and acquisition of Pillpack. Amazon has not responded to every threat it has encountered, but it has read the trends spectacularly well.

To be successful in the long term, organizations need to think as patient consumers and understand how they envision convenience, safety and quality. As increasing health care automation takes shape and machine diagnosis of disease starts to become the norm, the industry will need patients to embrace these advancements. This will only be possible if they are supported by clear communication of the benefits and risks, in a model of true shared decision making, and if services are designed around patients, rather than innovations operating in organizational silos.

Helping consumers believe this evolution is genuine and, in their interests, rather than a cynical cost-saving measure, requires clarity of purpose excellently communicated to all of us – the patients of tomorrow.

For more insights on the future of health care and to read additional analysis from APCO’s global team, click here.

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