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How might healthcare transform in the next 50 years?


A new study published in Futures highlighted the key factors likely to influence the evolution of medicine over the next 50 years. These factors included wellness technologies, data-driven personalization, and climate change.

Study: Medicine of the future: How and who is going to treat us? Image Credit: PopTika/Shutterstock
Study: Medicine of the future: How and who is going to treat us? Image Credit: PopTika/Shutterstock

Evolution of the healthcare industry

The healthcare industry has undergone a radical transformation over the past decade. Growing populations and advanced technologies have changed how the public engages with the healthcare industry.

There is a growing demand for less invasive treatments, leading to a better quality of life among patients. The public is seeking more customized and affordable healthcare provisions. 

Several scientific studies and findings illustrate a correlation between lifestyle choices and future disease development. Healthy living and preventive medicine originated by emphasizing health maintenance rather than disease treatment. The concept of personal well-being is becoming increasingly sought after in developed countries.

The contemporary trends encourage patients to bear responsibility for their health. In modern life, patients are no longer just care receivers but are facilitators of better treatment prognoses. 

Recently, wearable sensors have become commonplace owing to ongoing medical research and technological advances. Moreover, start-ups and large technology companies are now easily going commercial due to the introduction of numerous health apps. With the advent of consumerization, new entrants are entering the healthcare sector.

Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, the dynamics of healthcare have changed dramatically. Foolproof healthcare infrastructure must be in place – capable of managing catastrophic outbreaks. For instance, appropriately programmed robots can diagnose, assess risks, monitor treatment progress, as well as aid in telehealthcare, disinfecting, and forecasting viral spread. These can be utilized to prevent rapid infectious disease transmissions.

The healthcare industry and societies should be able to discern recent healthcare trends. It is crucial to recognize and anticipate the capabilities and resources required to implement novel methods of delivering medical care during emergencies. 

The study 

The primary goals of the study were to: (a) validate and revise major developments in medicine; (b) determine the key factors for future medical innovations; and (c) anticipate the short-, medium-, and long-term progress in the medical field.

In this study, the Delphi method was used in three rounds, with expert feedback at the end of each round. Overall, 22 medical experts were chosen from seven European countries, comprising – doctors, representatives of the European medical associations in their specialty (nine experts), members of academic institutions (seven experts), and other industry groups such as policymakers and business leaders (six experts). 

The respondents answered a series of follow-up questions. The primary objective of Round 1 was to obtain information about opinions regarding the healthcare industry’s current trends and the key factors likely to influence the future of healthcare. Consequently, rounds 2 and 3 entailed examining the signals and drivers of the focal industry in greater detail.

Atypical trends 

Stress

Recently, new sources of stress have emerged, including sudden lifestyle alterations, self-isolation, and concern for the health and future of loved ones. There is an increase in stress and uncertainty among 80% of workers. Many report that stress contributes to a reduction in sleep quality, difficulties in interacting with family members, and issues related to maintaining healthy relationships.

Biohacking

Biohacking entails implanting small electronics beneath the skin to monitor the body’s signs more accurately. According to biohackers, special diets, drugs, and supplements can enhance cognitive abilities, sex drive, and physical fitness and prevent aging.

Medical tourism

The global medical tourism market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Most individuals travel abroad to seek a second opinion and high-tech healthcare infrastructure, which is lacking in many countries. Further, several others travel to participate in technological experiments. In December 2020, Indian tourism operators reportedly signed contracts to transport people abroad to receive coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccinations, marking the beginning of vaccine tourism. 

Crucial factors impacting the healthcare industry

Researchers identified three major factors that will soon influence the healthcare industry. These were wellness technologies, data-driven personalization, and climate change.

Wellness technologies

Well-being enhances creativity, efficiency, and peer relationships and promotes longevity and health. Most respondents ranked mental health as the most important indicator of health and well-being.

Signal 1. The value-based healthcare – This model focuses on improving patient outcomes and maximizing resource efficiency. Investing in treatment has lost its appeal. Integrating digital technology with value-based healthcare facilitates a more individualized approach, fosters close collaboration with caregivers, and eases decision-making. Every aspect of medicine is being digitalized.

Signal 2. Smart delivery of biologically active substances – There is a need to emphasize novel ideas and customized therapies. Existing therapeutic techniques can often have deleterious effects. Treatments must be tailored to suit the patient’s characteristics and needs. It is anticipated that the smart distribution of biologically active chemicals will be used extensively in clinical care, such as cancer treatment.

Signal 3. Telemedicine – Telemedicine has made significant progress during the COVID-19 outbreak. Nowadays, telemedicine and remote treatment are frequently opted for by patients, physicians, and clinics to overcome medical challenges without incurring large expenses. Telemedicine will transfer the delivery of medical care from the hospital to the patient’s home in the post-industrial era.

Data-driven personalization

Data-informed personalization refers to delivering an appropriate product at the appropriate time and location based on a patient’s personal information to diagnose, prevent, or treat disease.

Signal 1. Smart hospitals – Significant components of smart hospitals include an effort to improve the quality of medical services; vaccination outsourcing, laboratory services; increased patient engagement, more patient-centric care; and cost-effective treatments.

Signal 2. Wearable devices provide a noninvasive modality for collecting and interpreting vital patient data. Typically, wearable gadgets improve patients’ health in cardiology, diabetology, and neurology.

Climate Change

Climate change and extreme weather events have a significant impact on patients. Global warming can potentially exacerbate these effects in the years to come. Experts have pointed out that environmental pollution and global warming are already driving future healthcare transformations.

Signal 1. Climate migrants – Climate migrants are a new breed forced to abandon their homes due to long-span climate change impacts. Various factors, like drought, rising water levels, and seasonal changes, may contribute to such shifts.

Signal 2. Low-carbon healthcare – Efficient healthcare methods and integration with global climate goals pose a challenge. Yet, they can be viewed as a chance to innovate operational advancements in the healthcare infrastructure.

Conclusion

The researchers outlined and analyzed the key factors driving the healthcare industry evolution, as foreseen for the next 50 years. Experts have already approved assumptions regarding short-, medium-, and long-term changes, which are likely to impact not only the prominent industrial stakeholders but also society at large. 

The findings suggest that stakeholders must gear up to propose organic responses to events during the industry’s transition. However, there are chances that some trends lose prominence while others pan out to be transformative.



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