Today, parents can chat with a doctor online when their child is ill, avoiding long waits in overcrowded doctors’ offices—an option many took advantage of during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of visiting infusion clinics, cancer patients can receive customized biological treatments in the comfort of their own homes. And personal health tracking devices no longer just count our steps; they also can warn of an approaching heart attack or falling insulin levels, in time to prevent a crisis.
Innovations like these give a hint at how the healthcare industry—which virtually every expert observer and patient agrees is badly broken—hopes to cure its ills. But with a growing and aging population, a shortage of doctors and an unsustainable rise in health costs, much more is needed.
“Today’s healthcare industry is in crisis,” said Mikael Benson, a professor at the Center for Personalized Medicine at Sweden’s Linköping University Hospital. “It is characterized by declining budgets, long waiting lists, increasing dissatisfaction among the public, and unequal care. What’s more, many patients are not improved by medication. According to research by the US Food and Drug Administration, treatments are ineffective for up to 75% of patients with common illnesses. When you consider that it costs over US$2.5 billion for each new drug developed, it’s easy to understand why there’s an issue.”
A broken model
Many factors contribute to the healthcare crisis, and they are growing. Kamaljit Behera, senior industry analyst for transformational Health at Frost & Sullivan’s practice in India, sees the world’s rapidly aging population as one of the biggest. “The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 2 billion people across the world are expected to be over 60 years old by 2050, a figure that’s more than triple what it was in 2000,” he said.
A substantial proportion of this group will have at least one chronic disorder. “Many will have up to eight,” said Chris Lowe, director of the Cambridge Academy for Therapeutics Science based at Cambridge University in the UK. “Healthcare costs increase near five-fold, to patients between the ages of 60 and 100…this system is unsustainable.”
The rise in chronic conditions isn’t limited to the elderly. “According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases account for 86% of annual healthcare spending,” Behera said. “This is creating serious worries for government and health authorities globally.”
A global shortage of specialist physicians exacerbates the situation. “Geographic and economic barriers drive that shortage and ultimately diminish health outcomes,” said Mark Toland, president of Corindus, a surgical robotics firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, much of the industry’s data is locked in silos. “Health records frequently reside in different formats and on disparate systems,” Deloitte reports in its “2018 Global Healthcare Outlook” study. “Clinicians may, therefore, have difficulty coordinating appointments and procedures, sharing test results, and involving patients in their treatment plan… care providers may be working hard, but they are not necessarily working ‘smart.’”
It all adds up to frustrated patients, consumers who increasingly are digitally savvy and have lost their patience with the industry’s shortcomings.
“Patients are the same people who order their groceries from Amazon and their rides from Uber,” said Matt Blosl, chief revenue officer at Experity, a US urgent care technology firm focused on patient-centered healthcare.“They have come to expect on-demand services, and that also applies to healthcare. The traditional model of care, mired by long wait times for appointments and slow billing processes, does not meet the expectations of patients in 2020.”
A virtual fix
Virtual and digital technologies are already contributing to the fix, and even more ambitious projects are in development. In its “2019 Global Healthcare Outlook,” Deloitte reports that health systems’ efforts to transition to new models of patient-centered care and smart health approaches are heavily focused on digital and virtual technologies aimed at driving innovation, increasing access and affordability, improving quality and lowering costs.
“Standing at the epicenter of the new healthcare value system will likely be informed and empowered consumers—change agents and active caretakers of their health who have high expectations of their healthcare ecosystem,” the report says. “These consumers will likely be ‘pulling’ solutions rather than being ‘pushed’ services, flipping the current healthcare delivery model from business-to-consumer to consumer-to-business.”
According to research by the US Food and Drug Administration, treatments are ineffective for up to 75% of patients with common illnesses.
Frost & Sullivan’s Behera believes that the rise of a concept called quantified self’—the ability to gain knowledge by self-tracking with technology—will be fundamental to this transition. “The digitalization of products, services and commerce models is democratizing current healthcare systems, manifesting a new era of healthcare consumerism,” he said.
The arrival of 5G connectivity, working on the cloud, will be instrumental to enabling these technologies, accelerating a shift from in-person, in-clinic treatment to remote care and monitoring. “A home health network service can include services that track vital signs, sleep quality and other health parameters via wearables, sensors and devices, or telehealth,” the 2019 Deloitte report says. “Wearables will not only be used for continuous monitoring of our health, but will also serve as treatment dispensers.”
Even surgeries may be conducted remotely. “It’s a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model,” Toland said. “Physicians at a hub location could treat a patient anywhere, regardless of location. Not only would physicians help more patients under this type of model, but it would eliminate the current geographic barriers that prevent patients from seeing the best doctors in the world. No matter where the patient lives, they could access the most highly regarded specialists in any area of medicine.”
This new reality is taking shape, transforming the healthcare industry as we have known it. And that transformation is poised to be accelerated by advancements in modeling and simulation technologies, which are allowing medical professionals to virtually explore, model and test treatments, to understand and model the human body, and to engineer safer and more effective device designs and procedures customized to each patient’s specific physiology.
In The Personalized Health Revolution special report, we introduce some of the pioneers using these technologies to deliver industry-wide transformation through innovations that span the spectrum from home care and telehealth to diagnosis support and virtual clinician training.
3D Modeling & Simulation
Visit here for more information on the personalized health revolution.