Global healthcare systems, and their ability to respond in times of crisis, are being scrutinized and analyzed as never before, highlighting inbuilt stresses and strains, from stark shortages of human resources to vulnerable supply chains.
This has also served as a reminder that healthcare has largely existed in the shadows of broader public policy considerations and aspirations, operating, for the most part, in responsive mode, with its primary focus on healing the sick rather than promoting good health. But out of the depths of crisis come encouraging signs that we could be witnessing the beginnings of a new era in healthcare.
1. Green health will gain momentum, delivering benefits for citizens and the planet
The global pandemic has understandably drawn our attention away from our other global health crisis – climate change, which is continuing to take its toll on physical and mental health, often reversing decades of progress in health outcomes.
However, as global leaders strive to re-engineer their economies and move to “clean” industries, the “green health” movement is also gaining traction. We endorse the fundamental wisdom of a cradle-to-grave approach to health, in which we create the conditions – economic, social, environmental – in which good health is nurtured throughout our lives.
But, as advocates of prevention rather than cure, we can all go further. As Dr Maliha Hashmi of the World Economic Forum contends, this fundamental shift, in particular appreciating the importance of the natural world in promoting health and wellbeing, will not only deliver better health outcomes, but also help to stimulate the essential changes to markets and economies that are required to stop the planet from overheating.
Not least of these will be the continued growth of digital healthcare, stress-tested and turbocharged by COVID-19, in which virtual surgeries and ward rounds, remote monitoring and telehealth not only increase capacity and productivity, but also deliver significant reductions in travel-related emissions. Critically, new skillsets for primary care workers will become the norm in order to successfully implement new technologies.
Dr Hashmi and others have a more literal vision of sustainable health systems too, in which hospitals have their own gardens to promote health and wellbeing for patients, resources that can also be used to grow fresh crops for consumption by staff, patients and communities, further reducing energy and transport costs in the process. For example, social prescribing, such as arts activities, gardening, cookery and a range of sports, is already starting to replace pharmacological interventions.
Copyright: Maria Koijck
2. Deploying user experience skills will speed the delivery of human-centered healthcare
The idea of human centered healthcare has been around for decades, and there are great examples of how technology has transformed aspects of patient care, for example wearable devices for monitoring, diagnosis and ongoing health management. But, overall, delivery has been patchy.
This is because a vital skill set is still too often missing from the debates in the conference hall or the thought leadership session. In healthcare, as in all services consumed by the public, the quality of the user experience is vital in achieving universal use of new technologies and maximizing the value and benefits for all.
And given the enormous scale of the healthcare ecosystem, even small gains deliver huge results. Saving 30 seconds of time at the computer for each patient episode in an average emergency department seeing 75,000 patients a year will free up 12 hours of clinician time every week. And when patients are given choice, they often choose less intervention than clinicians.
They also often prefer to be treated at home, and the rise of federated learning, connected care devices and closer collaboration between telecoms companies, hospitals and Departments of Health has enabled patients to choose homecare, rather than a hospital or clinic.
User experience experts take a forensic interest in all real and potential user types – patients, clinicians, administrators, family members – in all settings, exploring why, where and how they will use the item, how they will connect with other services and the way in which data is stored and shared. They consider all of the user’s pain points, predict how the solution will need to evolve over time – and design, test and build accordingly.
These are the people who will translate talk about human-centered care into action. In 2022 we believe there will be a growing focus on delivering the great user experiences that will help unlock human-centered healthcare.
Equally, healthcare professionals will increasingly unearth – and share – the vital clues, insights and trends in health data not just for great patient outcomes but also to inform resource requirements and procurement decisions too.
3. Patients and clinicians will increasingly choose between digital and in person contact
After the exponential growth in the deployment of digital solutions to meet the unique healthcare challenges of the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, during 2021 these were refined, and in many ways became the new normal.
Remote appointment setting and consultations, data sharing, analytics and modelling and much more all enabled the mass delivery of healthcare services in a way that helped keep patients, clinicians and wider society as safe as possible.
For example, a huge increase in home monitoring, using plug and play technology, made a significant impact in reducing hospital admissions. The ability of frontline healthcare workers to stay productive, even while shielding at home, has been vital to the maintenance of those services.
But in 2022, the Omicron variant notwithstanding, we will see a rebalancing of digital and in-person service provision, with healthcare systems, clinicians and patients increasingly able to choose between a range of now proven service delivery options.
The best of digital, where appropriate or when selected by a patient, will be combined with a return to more face-to-face contacts, where specifically requested by a patient, or judged to be advantageous by a clinician.
Choice delivers flexibility and efficiencies for service providers seeking best practice, and puts patients at the center of decision making, giving them more control of their own health journeys, selecting routes that suit them best.
While a rebalanced healthcare system will deliver multiple operational benefits and efficiencies, including the ability to address the backlog of both urgent and elective procedures, it also enables a much-needed reduction in risk, for example in the area of patient data security.
Faced with the urgent need for high-speed action, some decisions that were inevitably fast tracked can now be revisited and readjustments made where necessary, reducing the huge increase in cyberattacks on hospitals that have been witnessed during the pandemic.
With the demonstrable success of flexible and innovative approaches in helping to cope with one of the greatest challenges in its history, there is now renewed optimism that healthcare could be entering a new era, building on its unique experiences and learning from other sectors too, shaping a brighter future for all of its stakeholders.
4. Interoperability will become the global standard, enabling digital value to be maximized
COVID-19 demonstrated once again just how important reliable and accessible data and analytics are to make precise forecasts, to draw the right conclusions and to make the right decisions.
While huge progress has been made, there is still some way to go to achieve the level of interoperability of both data and systems that will maximize the fast and secure sharing of electronic patient records, as individuals move in and out of the healthcare ecosystem. Only then will we unlock the next level of operational efficiencies and improved health outcomes.
In some areas of healthcare, interoperable data is already used in algorithms that turn clinical decision making into a fact-based and largely automated process. But too many healthcare institutions and practitioners still rely on paper files and handwritten notes, with all the obvious risks and inefficiencies.
While the pandemic has acted as an accelerator in breaking down many data silos, only when secure interoperability becomes the global standard will the huge potential of digitization be maximized. We believe that 2022 will see another big push to clear as many roadblocks out of the way, taking us closer to the streamlined data sharing system that everyone seeks.
Our look at 2022 trends in healthcare was compiled in conversation with: