Health trends and predictions for 2018
Looking to the new year, Dr Sneh Khemka, MBChB, MRCOphth, (Hon) MFPH, President of Population Health for Aetna International discusses how these key trends and new technologies will reshape the healthcare sector in 2018.
Global healthcare trends
Trend 1 – Burgeoning global middle class.
The world’s middle class is growing (in particular across the Middle East and Asia), providing the backbone of a revolution in healthcare demands. This class has new expectations from their healthcare system, demanding of digital, more convenient and more sophisticated access, meaning challenges in how to deliver.
Trend 2 – The change in global disease patterns.
Partly as a result of this emerging middle class, there is an increase in lifestyle related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, as opposed to infection-related diseases such as TB. This is putting a huge strain on local healthcare systems, with people living longer and needing more expensive and longer-term treatment.
Trend 3 – Impending and current antibiotic and opioid crises.
While world news is finally attuned to the global antibiotic crisis, the opioid crisis is also sweeping developed countries as we increasingly see addiction to prescription medications. Both are equally critical global crises in their own right, and need to be urgently addressed.
Trend 4 – The ticking time bomb of undiagnosed diabetes.
Obesity rates have fuelled a time bomb of undiagnosed diabetes around the world. To meet this crisis, healthcare systems will need to acknowledge this simmering epidemic, currently manifesting as pre-diabetes and as metabolic syndrome, both of which most people are unaware they have.
- Ascension and Providence St Joseph could be the US’ next biggest health merger
- Fullerton Health acquires 60% stake in the Intellicare Group
- The FDA launches new guidance surrounding the development of new health-tech
Trend 5 – Mental healthcare as a growing issue in developing markets.
In developed economies, there is acceptance and awareness of mental health issues and systems to cope with them. However in developing economies, healthcare providers will need to work with governments to overcome social taboos and understand what effect mental health has on other conditions, as well as productivity in the economy.
Trend 6 – Global disparity of healthcare leads to unwarranted variation.
There is polarity in the quality of healthcare provision and access around the world. 70% of people in the world have too little access to healthcare, yet 5% of people have too much access. America spends 19% of its GDP on healthcare, indicating far too many and unnecessary services provided to people; while developing nations are often less than 3% of GDP – so how to address the inequalities?
Trend 1 - Technology is on the frontline of patient care.
Technology is fundamental to most healthcare systems around the world. However while technology has advanced in healthcare, affordability has not. We are seeing increasingly expensive demands for enhanced solutions. This raises ethical questions of how, and at what cost, we should extend life using technology - it is not easy to determine where technological intervention should end and where the human life cycle should kick in.
Trend 2 – The data revolution is changing healthcare into a data-driven industry.
Healthcare has access to a wealth of data from wearable devices like Fitbit, to online analytics available on Google. Using this data, doctors can see what factors keep people healthy, rather than what makes them unhealthy. For example, aggregated data from online search engines are now the best predictor of a viral epidemic. Data and technology also makes it easier for healthcare professionals to diagnose, treat and cure - programmes such as IBM Watson can search through 15 million journals to inform doctors about rare diseases and treatments.
NHSX releases new data plans, experts call for transparency
Patients in England will get "greater control" over their health and care data according to new proposals set out by the government.
In a new draft strategy called "Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data", Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says that more effective use of data will deliver better patient-focused care. "This strategy seeks to put people in control of their own data, while supporting the NHS in creating a modernised system fit for the 21st century which puts patients and staff in pole position."
Under the new plans people will be able to access their medical records from different parts of the health system through different applications, to access test results, medication lists, procedures and care plans.
The strategy, published by NHSX, the government department that sets policies for the use of technology within the NHS, follows delays to the creation of a central database of patient records amid concerns over data sharing and a lack of transparency, with critics saying that only a small proportion of the public were made aware of the plans and the choice to opt out.
Kevin Curran, senior member of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Professor of Cybersecurity at the University of Ulster, says that moving health records online raises concerns. "The move to an online app does seem like a natural progression, however there is a difference between having computerised records within our healthcare IT infrastructure and having those records reside on a public facing server.
"Having records inhouse limits the range and type of access – it's far more difficult for remote hackers" Curran said. "There are techniques that healthcare organisations can use to reduce the risk of future data breaches. One way is to make it ‘opt in’, so patients have the choice to decide whether their medical information is moved to a public facing service so that they can access it.
"However, those who do not opt in or download the app instead should have their records hosted in a non-public-facing cloud service. This way, if a data breach does occur, those who never used the app, or not wanted to, will not have had their details released."
The new strategy has been welcomed by some, with an emphasis on the need for transparency. Adam Steventon, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation, said: "Health data has played a critical role in the last year – from tracking COVID-19 outbreaks and developing treatments, to getting people booked in for their vaccines. It is critical that the use of data is accelerated if the NHS is to tackle the backlog of care and address the massive health challenges facing the country.
"It is particularly positive that the government has committed to building analytical and data science capability in the NHS and to improving data on social care. To ensure the full potential of data can be realised, the government must ensure transparency on how it will be used and the rights and options people have, as well as engaging with the public and health care professionals to build trust and show people how their data can improve the NHS and save lives."