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Digital technology and personalised healthcare will be two key enablers of change.
The nature of the demand for healthcare is changing. Population, disease, and demographic patterns mean that the kind of healthcare that people need is different from what healthcare systems usually deal with. These trends mean that there will be a different approach, with the stress moving from the curative care that prevailed in the past, to the preventative care that is required in the future. The result will be a radically different form of healthcare that is simultaneously digital and personal.
A major factor behind this change is the empowerment of people using healthcare services. People now see themselves as much as consumers as they are patients. This is because people are more educated, more affluent, and more middle class, particularly in such emerging markets as the Middle East. They are far better informed than in the past. This makes them more demanding and more active. They are willing to seek the best option for their health issues, providing an incentive for healthcare providers to compete even more.
The disease pattern is also different from the past. There is now a higher incidence of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular ailments, cancer, diabetes, and mental health problems. Non-communicable diseases are chronic, which means that they often require long-term management. Today, affluence and an often inactive lifestyle mean that the prevalence of type-2 diabetes, for example, has risen in Middle Eastern countries. This leads to expensive, and complex to treat, long-term health issues.
Demographic trends are another factor. Life expectancy has lengthened in recent decades. That means there is a larger elderly population to care for with specific requirements that go beyond healthcare in traditional facilities such as doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. Coordinating care for these patients is as important as the type of care that they receive.
All of this means that there will be a different approach to healthcare. Already the impact of the shift from curative care to preventative care is being felt with notable stress on building more outpatient clinics, rather than large hospitals.
This transformation in healthcare will not, however, happen on its own. Rather digital technology and personalised healthcare will be two key enablers of change. Healthcare spending will also be dramatically different, and every part of the industry will need to change, from doctors, nurses, regulators, healthcare providers, and payers—be they governments, insurance companies, or individuals. The nature of providers will also change, with significant contributions from technology companies who could play as important a role as traditional medical and pharmaceutical players.
Enablers of change
The first key enabler, digital technology, will allow providers to deliver healthcare outside of facilities such as hospitals or clinics. Instead, healthcare systems can provide care through wearables and devices controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, in the near future, you will be able to wear a shirt that monitors your heart rate and that sends the data to a virtual version of you (a so-called avatar) that contains your health history. In real-time, AI will derive lessons from these data, telling you what to do—whether in terms of exercise or nutrition. Another device will administer medication to you at the right time and in the right dose. The smallest change, and sign of trouble, will be detected rapidly, allowing for early and more effective intervention.