What are the top healthcare challenges to overcome in the near future according to industry leaders?
What are the top healthcare challenges to overcome in the near future according to industry leaders?23 July 2020 | 8min
We asked industry experts: What do you believe will be the top healthcare challenges in the coming years?
Three overarching themes emerged: 1) the move towards patient-centric business models, 2) the demographic shift to an older patient population with chronic conditions, and 3) the need to leverage the data collected from advancing digital technologies while ensuring data security
The insgihts and solutions shared by experts to help overcome these up-and-coming healthcare challenges reveal there is no better time than now to reflect upon, embrace and innovate change
Earlier this year, we reached out to healthcare providers and healthcare executives worldwide, and asked them a simple question: What do you believe will be the top healthcare challenges in the coming years?
The answers received were varied and covered many perspectives and concerns. However, there were three overarching themes that emerged. First, many healthcare leaders believe that healthcare is moving irrevocably towards a patient-centric business model, and systems need to adapt. Secondly, the demographic shift to an older patient population with chronic conditions needing care will have a massive impact on every aspect of health systems. Finally, the ability to leverage healthcare data generated from digital technologies is set to alter the healthcare landscape forever, inevitably bringing into the spotlight concerns of data privacy and security.
The healthcare leaders we contacted didn’t just outline the challenges they saw looming; they also offered their unique insights on how to solve them. Let’s take a closer look at their responses.
CHALLENGE 1: The shift to a patient-centric healthcare business model
One of the top healthcare challenges identified by several respondents was the increasing move toward a more patient-centric business model. Patients pay approximately one-third of healthcare and coverage costs each year in the US and indirectly pay even more.1 Worldwide, out of pocket healthcare expenses are approximately 18% of total health expenditure,2 yet patients have never been the primary customer for the healthcare industry.
That, however, is changing, especially with the digitalization of health. The use of technology has increased exponentially in recent years, with an explosion of users getting information not only via traditional desktop computers, but especially smartphones. With this power in their hands, patients are turning ever more to their phones for medical advice.
According to a report by the Wharton School, Google and McKinsey, 1 in 20 searches on Google today is for health-related information.3 This increased use calls for an increased demand for transparency and higher expectations from patients when it comes to the level of digital services and convenience offered by their healthcare providers.3
Consumer behavior towards healthcare is already changing dramatically. For example, in a 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey by Accenture only 55% of Generation Z (born 1997 onward) had a primary care physician, versus 84% of Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964). In addition, they were generally much more dissatisfied by the traditional care model than older generations.4 Regardless of age, healthcare consumers demonstrate dissatisfaction with many aspects of traditional care – including effectiveness, convenience, and transparency. 4
The research trends cited above suggest that there is room for improvement for healthcare organizations in order to meet the needs of today’s patients. If health systems ignore these calls to action rather than address them, they will face an array of issues including a potentially decreasing pipeline of patients as consumers, which may ultimately have a negative impact on downstream revenue opportunities.
SOLUTION: Listen to the patient as a primary customer to better their healthcare experience
Healthcare systems need to put patients at the center of their solutions and make healthcare convenient, accessible and “user-friendly”. This brings into light the need for healthcare organizations and professionals to embrace digital. This is not only needed to understand pain points to address patient needs, but to stay competitive. A recent report by McKinsey states that the companies leading the integration of digital strategies grow revenues twice as fast as their competitors. 5
Anticipate the purchasing power of patients as consumers
“Healthcare leaders need to first recognize the growing purchasing power of healthcare consumers. Though that power has not yet been channeled, counting it out is short-sighted. Status quo will not last forever. To anticipate and embrace the future of consumerism, executives must invest in consumer research, marketing, and experience. They must ask, listen, and respond to consumer needs.”
Implement patient-focused access strategies
“Systems can address the current industry challenges by developing an access strategy that is focused on meeting consumer expectations. An effective access strategy makes the system available when, where and how the consumer wants. This approach gives consumers the choices they seek and positions systems to effectively compete against non-traditional healthcare providers entering the space.”
CHALLENGE 2: Caring for a growing patient volume and ageing population
According to our respondents, one of the biggest future healthcare challenges will be caring for an aging population. By 2050, 83 million Americans are expected to be 65 or older, which is nearly double of what it was in 2012.6
Contributing to the cause for concern, the aging population is far outpacing the rate of entry of new geriatric healthcare providers to care for them.7 This applies to healthcare providers in general – meaning the healthcare system is quickly approaching a crisis in which too few healthcare professionals are available to diagnose and treat patients, a shortage of up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.8
In addition, chronic or non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have now replaced infectious diseases as the leading threats to health worldwide according to the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report.9 Due to the complex and oftentimes lifelong treatment for these illnesses and increases in longevity, managing NCDs have put healthcare systems in many countries under stress.9
Taken together, these factors not only have the potential to drive up the overall cost of healthcare, but to also increase physician burnout and put limits on access to healthcare services. This inevitable demographic shift represents a challenge to the traditional healthcare model that cannot be addressed without a paradigm shift in how medicine is practiced.
SOLUTIONS: Improve remote care services and create efficiencies with technology
In order to provide high quality care to a growing number of patients at sustainable costs, healthcare systems will need to offer alternative ways to deliver care services outside of traditional care settings, such as hospitals. The use of technology to improve efficiencies throughout the patient journey can also help to alleviate resource pressures.
Bring healthcare home
“Reprioritizing long-term healthcare into the home setting is the most cost-effective and patient-preferred way to address the future healthcare needs of our aging population. Caring for a person in their own home costs much less than a nursing home – this alone could save the US Medicare and Medicaid systems millions while addressing seniors’ health needs. As we continue to make advances in medicine and develop innovative technology, it will become easier to make one’s home the center of their care.”
Innovate solutions that enable remote access to healthcare and improve efficiencies
“Telemedicine is already a rapidly growing market providing urgent care, lifestyle, and pharmacy services all online. If you have flu-like symptoms and want to speak with a physician, there is no reason you should have to drive to an urgent care. You should be able to resolve this via video chat. If traditional medicine wants to compete, then they need to provide their own innovative digital solutions.”
“As artificial intelligence demonstrates its capacity to tackle many of the most time consuming and variable components of diagnostic medicine, the adoption of this technology as a central component of routine patient diagnosis and care affords hospitals the opportunity to address the imbalance between available expertise and growing patient volume. In particular, the introduction of these computational applications in pathology holds the promise of addressing challenges in diagnostic efficiency as well as the potential to drive value-based care with insights that go beyond what the modern practice of medicine is capable of today.”
CHALLENGE 3: Leveraging healthcare data and ensuring data privacy
The next decade will be dominated by technology – and healthcare won’t be an exception. The data gathered through the use of digital technologies, such as mobile health applications and wearables, has the potential to transform healthcare delivery and lead to improved patient care. For a detailed report on how big data is changing the industry along with actionable insights for healthcare leaders on the implementation of data and technology to improve patient outcomes, please download our ebook, Leveraging big data to improve healthcare .
Healthcare companies have long mastered the collection of data. The challenge, however, is making this data accessible in order for actionable insights to be derived from it. Adding complexity to this challenge is the sensitive nature of the collected data that must be protected above all.
SOLUTIONS: Harness the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and establish a culture of data security
Now is the time to be bold in the use of new technologies – but it needs to be done safely. While AI algorithms have the potential to analyze vast amounts of data previously not possible, they need to be built with patient safety and data security as top priorities.
Generate meaningful insights from gathered data
“Through the influence of AI and intelligent learning, I believe we will continue to see the use of digital technology as a compliment to the patient-physician relationship. As greater acceptance and use of technology joins the patient experience, we should see greater clarity and increased support as a result of improved efficiencies and an informed network that aids a patient’s individual health journey.
Put safety and data protection first
“There is always a human factor in all technologies, so one step is to maintain good computer habits and establish a security culture. “Safety first” should be a golden rule whenever it comes to any kind of patients’ data. Firewall and anti-virus software should be as obvious as locking an office’s door overnight. However, I expect to see a huge development in this field in the next decade.”
The limitations, yet also the opportunities for improvement, outlined by healthcare leaders have been brought into the spotlight by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Older populations, who are more vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19, have overwhelmed healthcare systems around the world. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing have suddenly forced entire populations to rely heavily on technology for healthcare – as exemplified by a massive increase in the use of telemedicine for routine medical services.10,11 And, people around the world have been encouraged to take their health matters into their own hands as access to their traditional care providers was challenged.
Healthcare leaders need to face the system gaps outlined above as they respond to – and eventually recover from – the current crisis. How can these challenges be addressed to mitigate the impact of another pandemic, or even another wave of the current one? As the world contemplates the “new normal” what will that mean for healthcare?
There is no better time than now to reflect upon, embrace and innovate solutions to address these challenges.
Simone Edelmann, PhD is an editor and contributor at HealthcareTransformers.com. After completing her PhD from the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, she found her passion in medical and scientific communications. She is dedicated to delivering high-quality content on the topic of the future of healthcare to our readers.
- Moeller P. (2019). Article available from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/how-americans-spend-much-more-on-health-care-than-they-realize [Accessed July 2020]
- The World Bank. Data available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.OOPC.CH.ZS [Accessed July 2020]
- Bell D et al. Report available at http://www.pharma3d.com/#chapter-856435 [Accessed July 2020]
- Kalis B. (2019). Report available at https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/health/todays-consumers-reveal-future-healthcare [Accessed July 2020]
- McKinsey Digital. (2020). Full assessment available at https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/how-we-help-clients/digital-2020/our-assessments/strategy# [Accessed July 2020]
- US Census Bureau. (2014). Press release available at https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-84.html [Accessed July 2020]
- Foley K. (2018) Article available at https://qz.com/1398613/in-a-few-years-were-probably-not-going-to-have-enough-doctors-to-treat-our-aging-population/ [Accessed July 2020]
- World Health Organization. Data available at https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/Health-systems/health-workforce/data-and-statistics [Accessed July 2020]
- World Economic Forum. (2020). Report available at http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risk_Report_2020.pdf [Accessed July 2020]
- Peck T. (2020) Article available at https://qz.com/1831641/covid-19-accelerated-telemedicine-access-for-medicare-recipients/ [Accessed July 2020]
- The Medical Futurist (2020). Article available at https://medicalfuturist.com/covid-19-was-needed-for-telemedicine-to-finally-go-mainstream/ [Accessed July 2020]