The Future of Healthcare — And What It Means for Your Organisation
Written by Dr Umang Patel
, 5 min read
It was late on a Friday afternoon when a mother and her 5 year-old daughter came in to see me. The girl had a run-of-the-mill viral illness, and a fever to go along with it.
Her poor mum was positively stressed. She explained she’d been rotating treatment, Calpol one day, Nurofen the next. When I told her she could give both on the same day, she was blown away.
Her neighbour had warned her about febrile seizures, and google-searching had only served to further scare and confuse her.
This poor woman was terrified.
She had access to advice and technology, and still had to come in and wait 4 hours just to see me for 5 minutes.
Change Is Inevitable
As a paediatrician, I know just how common these situations are.
The question for me was never why or when will the system change, but rather, “How can we make healthcare more accessible, sustainable, and personalized?”
Because the current system simply can’t keep up.
- First, there’s cost. Medical inflation is 7% year on year. People are paying more and more for PMI— it’s simply unsustainable. The more healthcare costs, the fewer people you can give it to, and the less effective it becomes.
- Then, there’s lifestyle. Today, we live our lives in a very different way, but healthcare has stayed the same. Every day, there’s more research conducted and more articles published. As a global society, we are all more health conscious, and we want to act on the information we read.
- And of course, there’s technology. Here’s a story I love about technology...and manure.
In 1851, the biggest threat to your health was the horse. In London alone, we had 5,000 horses that each produced 10 kilos of manure per day—that’s 500 metric tons of manure that needed to be cleared in order to simply go about your business.
All the pestilence and disease at that time was caused by horse manure. And New York was facing the same problem. You know those high steps you see in ‘Sex and City’? Those were put there to keep people out of chin-high piles of manure, as they hopped out of their homes and into their buggies.
These cities were in big trouble. They needed horses to fuel their economies, but the manure was posing a major public health risk. City officials planned a 10-day conference to come up with a solution.
After just 3 days, they gave up. Officials had chosen their economies over the health of their citizens.
Thankfully, their problem was solved overnight when Henry Ford invented the motor car.
Innovating for the Future
According to Cancer Research UK, half of people over 50 ignore potential symptoms of cancer due to a “stiff upper lip” and fear of wasting their GP’s time.
That’s why the future of healthcare is so exciting.
Technology is taking fear out of the equation by providing patients with tools they actually enjoy using. Just as Netflix empowered viewers, personalized healthcare tools like Withings wireless tech and Fitbit, make it easy (even fun!) to take ownership over our health.
But it’s still early days. In order to ensure a sustainable new model of healthcare, future innovations must meet three fundamental criteria:
- Safety. Not just from an IT perspective, but also medically. As the healthcare paradigm continues to shift toward a more open and accessible format, patients, practitioners, and the public must stay mindful of potential safety risks. We know for example, that health IT can help ensure safe prescription management, but there’s still much work to be done to increase transparency in electronic health records (EHR) and improve communication between patients and practitioners. In the future, both the technical processes and the medical standards behind them, must be of the highest quality in order to reduce risks and successfully lead patients to the best possible health outcome.
- Efficacy. The head of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has said patients and communities are the source of ‘renewable energy’ in healthcare. Though we don’t yet have enough hard data on the health outcomes of many of today’s leading innovations—such as, personal genomics, consumer health wearables, and telemedicine—we do know that these tools are effective in reducing the number of hospitalizations and increasing self-management in patients with chronic illness. When we empower people to understand their own conditions and make the right choices then we are effective, both medically and economically.
- Personalization. Advice like, “Everyone should eat less and exercise more,” doesn’t land or help. But what if you could personalize health, the way Amazon personalized shopping? In the UK alone, we spend £1.5m an hour on the cost of treating diabetes. What if you could sign up for a personalized diabetes management programme in just one click? A US survey conducted by Harris Poll found that 70% of millennials would choose a primary care doctor who offers a patient mobile app over one that doesn’t. If you could do it all over today, you wouldn’t start building the healthcare system of the future with an office or government building, you’d start with the one thing everyone has—a mobile phone.
The Risk of Staying the Same
In his paper, Securing our Future Health: Taking a Long Term View, Sir Derek Wanless said, “Better employee health could save the NHS £10 billion pounds.” Simon Stevens echoed this sentiment in his 5 Year Forward View, proposing financial incentives for employers who promote good health.
But with the cost of both physical and mental health steadily increasing, it’s only a matter of time before advice and recommendations turn into taxes and penalties. How long before the government passes this bill on to the employer?
And how long before employers realize their employees hold the key to a profitable future?
One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from Google’s first investor letter from 2004:
“We provide many unusual benefits for our employees, including meals free of charge, doctors and washing machines. We are careful to consider the long term advantages to the company of these benefits. Expect us to add benefits rather than pare them down over time. We believe it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.”
The future of healthcare is the future of business. And it’s happening now.
Are you ready? Drop me a line anytime at [email protected]
Written by Dr. Umang Patel
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.