Digital Health Revolution (Part 1): What is the NEED?
Affordable access to quality healthcare is becoming a challenge, globally. Increase in life expectancy, changing consumer behavior, political uncertainties, inflation and rising number of chronic diseases are posing huge challenges for both healthcare consumers & providers.
To generate actionable insights for healthcare providers, healthcare companies are looking at ways to integrate their existing systems with new digital technologies. In the past few years, digitally enabled care has transformed from a nice-to-have facility to a necessary business goal.
All major segments of healthcare, from pharma companies and insurance providers to home healthcare providers, are undergoing major shifts to deliver integrated health services to their patients. Let's look at some major challenges faced by the world today that is demanding for the digital transformation of healthcare.
Rapidly Aging Population and Healthcare
"Population ageing is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century"
- UNITED NATIONS
Due to innovations in technology and medicine, today's population is living longer. The prevalence of disability is decreasing as well. But that doesn't mean that everyone is living a healthier life. According to a WHO report, there is a gradual increase of people suffering from milder chronic diseases.
Whether we are ready for it or not, the continuous growth of aging population will have implications for our healthcare system. The commercial and economic stability of many nations is being challenged by the aging populations. It increases the expenditure of governments on various social benefits programs including healthcare. As a result, demand for resources will continue to increase across all healthcare segments.
Chronic diseases are on the rise, worldwide
As per a report by the United Nations, 66 percent of the world’s population is projected to be urban, by 2050. Now while this presents many benefits to people as well as new business opportunities, people in urban settlements tend to adopt more sedentary lifestyles. The major risk factors include physical inactivity, unhealthy diet tobacco use, and alcohol consumption.
According to World health organization, chronic diseases kill nearly 40 million people each year. The prevalence of Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is expected to rise by 57% by 2020. This is leading to a growing demand for health systems to provide for chronic care needs.
Global shortage of healthcare professionals
Demand is increasing for physicians, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and community health workers. A common trend that is seen around the world. By 2024, in the US alone, healthcare jobs are expected to account for 39% of all new jobs.
As per Global Health Observatory (GHO) data, South East Asian and African regions experience the largest shortage of needs-based healthcare workers. But even developed countries are facing the crisis, of a different kind. Their medical schools tend to produce more specialists and less General Practitioners. This is creating an imbalance in their healthcare ecosystem. It is preventing primary care from assuming it's proper central role.
Healthcare Expenditures are Skyrocketing
Global per-capita healthcare expenditure will increase over 2 times by 2040, as per a study by The Lancet. And in some countries, like China, the projection is as high as 7 times. In many poor and middle-income countries, people pay out of pocket and get thrown into poverty as a result of rising medical costs.
But, in developed countries, the U.S. is an anomaly. It has the world's most expensive healthcare system. Generally, with increased health spending, the health improves. But the U.S doesn't have the best end results when it comes to health. For life expectancy, it ranks 12th in the most developed countries in the world.
Changing Health Care Consumer Expectations
Consumer demands are growing as they are more accustomed to living in a connected world and with access to information on their fingertips. Increasingly, this is shaping the healthcare industry of today. They expect ideal healthcare service to be efficient, quick, convenient and with access to their patient data from any device.
Consumers have become more engaged and more judicious. According to a survey conducted by Oliver Wyman, many health consumers are willing to pay for add-on services centered around convenience. The success of all healthcare providers will be marked by how well they respond to this consumer shift.
"There's no argument here that our health care system demands fixing. Digital health entrepreneurs have approached many of these challenges with robust enthusiasm, a long-term vision, and ample access to capital. However, many have lacked expertise, underappreciated health care specific workflows, misunderstood the full health care consumer journey and seriously underestimated what it takes to break through enterprise health care sales cycles."
- Rob Coppedge, CEO of Echo Health Ventures
Many digital technologies like VR/AR, 3D-printing, artificial intelligence, robotics etc have entered the healthcare space in the last few years. They are attempting to fix the rising demands of our healthcare systems. Considerable resources are being deployed to develop better apps and analytics. But not many of those projects are able to reach scale as they are fragmented. The hype surrounding them is much more than the actual sustainability of the solutions being provided.
An important step towards addressing the fragmentation is developing a strategy to engage all stakeholders to achieve a sustainable digital transformation of healthcare systems.