Five global health trends you just can’t ignore

1. Costs of healthcare delivery are spiraling to unsustainable levels

The costs of healthcare have outpaced economic growth by an average of 2% in OECD countries for the last 50 years. Emerging economies are starting to face similar challenges. By 2022, around one-third of all global health expenditure will occur in emerging economies, and for every additional $100 spent on health in 2022 (compared with 2012), $50 will come from emerging economies. These levels of spending must be accompanied with a major transformation in the way all public and private stakeholders approach the delivery of care.

A value-based approach has to lead this transformation ‒ quick and narrow solutions need to be replaced by visionary, long-term thinking, systematic approaches and partnerships among stakeholders. Emerging economies have a unique window of opportunity that they must seize. They indeed have the opportunity to “leapfrog”, which means building health systems that are more focused on better health outcomes, financial sustainability and people satisfaction.


2. The healthcare industry can’t deliver health all by itself

For reasons including shortages of skilled workers and the imbalance of past investments between acute care settings and primary care or homecare, the healthcare industry can face limitations particularly when it comes to population-based prevention and precision medicine. This is where individual empowerment through access to information, patient demand and disruptive forces outside the traditional healthcare sphere are transforming the industry in a radical way.

According to Rock Health, a major player in the field of health sector funding, venture capitalists poured a record $2.3 billion into digital health companies in the first half of 2014 (Bailey, 2014). They identified six major types of health technology being funded: software to administer insurance payments ($211 million); digital medical devices ($206 million); data collection and analytics ($196 million); consumer tools for buying healthcare or insurance ($193 million); software to help providers track patients’ health and treatment effectiveness ($162 million); and software for tailoring treatment to patients’ genetic information ($150 million). (Source: Rock Health 2014 Midyear Digital Health Funding Update)

3. The smartphone will become one of the most powerful tools for access to health

Smartphones will be used by individuals to access information on health when cloud-based solutions emerge to store health data, such as from blood pressure, to full medical records and lifestyle-related behaviours such as diets, physical activity, early diagnostics and treatment compliance. It will also become a more useful “medical instrument” for the doctor and all healthcare workers across high- and low-income countries.

Smartphones will be used for SMS consultations, remote diagnostics and monitoring and to manage health claims and prescriptions. One example is project Masiluleke in South Africa, which leverages mobile technology for HIV/AIDS and TB prevention through phone-based counselling and text-message supported self-testing.

4. Health dominates the top 10 emerging technologies

In the past two years, nearly half of the top 10 emerging technologies highlighted by the World Economic Forum have been related to health or will impact health in a significant manner: next-generation robotics, precise genetic-engineering techniques, emergent artificial intelligence, digital genome, body-adapted wearable electronics, human microbiome therapeutics, RNA-based therapeutics, the quantified-self (predictive analytics) and brain-computer interfaces.

5. Investing in healthy life years pays dividends for businesses, governments and society

recent report from the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health found that India stands to lose $4.58 trillion due to non-communicable diseases and mental disorders between 2012 and 2030, more than double India’s annual GDP.

ArnauldHealth2India is not alone. Other countries are heavily affected. The upside is that these losses can be addressed with population-based interventions, which have a promising return on investment (ROI) for businesses, governments and society overall. The World Economic Forum reviewed six interventions targeting the prevention of non-communicable diseases and the ROI analysis for these various interventions pointed to returns between 90% and 3,700% ‒ this is certainly more promising than many other investments. What’s more, the 2013 Lancet Commission on investing in health estimated that, between 2000 and 2011, about 24% of the growth in full income in low-income and middle-income countries resulted from the value of additional healthy life years gained.

Author: Arnaud Bernaert is Senior Director, Head of Global Health and Healthcare Industries, World Economic Forum

Image: A doctor uses a smartphone to take a photo of a child with facial deformity before surgery at the Vietnam Cuba hospital in Hanoi November 18, 2014. REUTERS/Kham

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