The challenges facing the global healthcare sector are all-too-familiar to UK providers and patients: rising demand driven by an ageing population, an increase in chronic conditions, heightened patient expectations, and rising costs combined with budgetary pressures. In fact, the challenges have become so great that it will require the combined efforts of all players if sustainable solutions are to be found. These stakeholders include state and regional governments, private and public healthcare providers, healthcare professionals and their representative bodies, patient groups, pharmaceutical and clinical manufacturing companies, plus private individuals themselves.
Causes of rising demand
Global population growth is, of course, the single most compelling factor driving higher demand for healthcare services. Yet this is compounded by an increase in chronic conditions caused by changes in human behaviour. The automation and mechanisation of manual tasks has caused many millions of people to lead more sedentary lifestyles. Rapid urbanisation is having a significant negative impact on the quality of the air we breathe. And changing diets are morphing our physiology – leading to a sharp spike in obesity, respiratory conditions, cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Deloitte reported in a recent paper that the number of people living with dementia is anticipated to double every 20 years, while the number of diabetes sufferers in the world is set to rise from 415 million to 642 million by 2040.
Prevention rather than cure
In response to these seemingly overwhelming challenges, some state-controlled providers are reviewing their entire approach to healthcare, seeking to shift from a reactive to a proactive approach – one where the focus is on prevention rather than cure. These local initiatives typically seek to raise awareness around the benefits of regular exercise, eating a healthier diet, and avoiding potentially harmful substances such as alcohol and narcotics. By changing the behaviour of individuals at a macro level, governments are able not only to reduce demand for medical services and costly interventions, but by promoting a healthier lifestyle, they can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of entire populations.
Innovation presents another clear opportunity to cut costs and improve care, and the healthcare sector has already benefited from a diverse range of startling advances in recent years - from new robotic surgery techniques, to the ability to 3D-print medical devices in remote locations. Technological innovation, and devising new applications for emerging technologies, is perhaps the greatest single opportunity for healthcare providers and other major players to balance the cost/care trade-off. And sometimes this can be patient-led, as with the adoption of bio-sensor technologies that have quickly become so commonplace – wearable technologies that track key metrics such as heart rate, blood pressure and exercise levels, enabling individuals to better manage their own health.
The challenges facing the global healthcare sector are great, but not insurmountable. Overcoming them will require greater collaboration between all stakeholders, and more proactive health management at local, national and international levels. It will require new models of care delivery, and new treatment delivery mechanisms, plus fresh thinking at the most senior levels, both in government and in the private sector.
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