Healthcare: building a digital healthcare system
Today’s model of healthcare provision is increasingly unsustainable. To deliver continued improvements to the world’s health, healthcare will need to be transformed, with digital playing a central role.
Few industries have the potential to be changed so profoundly by digital technology as healthcare, but the challenges facing innovators should not be underestimated. Regulatory barriers, economic hurdles and difficulties in effectively digitizing patient data awaiting those who wish to launch pioneering services.
The stakes could hardly be higher. By almost any measure, global health has improved dramatically in recent decades. However, the current model for providing healthcare is being slowly torn apart by the opposing forces of an ageing population and greater restraints on government spending. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. To deliver continued improvements to the world’s health, healthcare will need to be transformed, with digital playing a vital role.
The healthcare system of the future will look very different, with a crucial change being the move to ‘consumer-centric’ healthcare, allowing citizens to have much more responsibility for managing their healthcare and that of their families.
The pressures facing healthcare systems
Over the past century, dramatic improvements have been made to people’s health around the world. In less than 25 years, global average life expectancy at birth has soared from 64 years in 1990 to 71 years in 2013.¹
However, healthcare systems are coming under strain from powerful demographic and economic forces, including:
Economic cost burden
Much of the improvement in the health of the world’s population has been achieved through increasingly large expenditure by governments, health organizations and citizens. Global health spending has been growing by an average of 6% each year since 1995 – and at a faster rate than global GDP.²
Healthcare spending by geographical region (% of GDP, 2015)
Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit
Ageing populations require greater healthcare resources, and populations around the world are ageing due to lower birth rates and rising life expectancy. This trend has been seen in richer countries for many years, but is now also visible in emerging economies.³ In 2010, just 12% of China’s population was 60 years or older; by 2040, this is expected to reach 28%.⁴
Increased incidence of chronic disease
Unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are among the factors driving a rapid increase in the prevalence and coincidence of chronic diseases. Around the world, there are 382 million people with diabetes and 600 million who are obese.⁵ Advances in medicine have also transformed some previously fatal diseases into conditions requiring long-term management.
The unsustainable cost of care
Chronic diseases accounted for 86% of all US health spending in 2010 and are also becoming an increasing burden to health systems in other countries around the world.⁶ In the United States, just 5% of patients drive almost half (49%) of cost.⁷
The healthcare system of the future
A truly digital healthcare industry would revolutionize diagnosis and treatment, with a shift in focus to prevention and management. Perhaps the most noticeable changes for a citizen would be that significantly fewer trips to a physician or a hospital would be required. Citizens would become more engaged to manage their own health and care. Through self-care and monitoring of vital signs, an individual’s health could be continuously tracked. If needed, a virtual care consultation could be arranged, so that citizens could receive medical advice without leaving their homes. Should further medical care be necessary, the treatment plan would be personalized for each individual, maximizing the chances of a successful outcome.
Delivering societal benefits: virtual care
Virtual care (which includes telehealth and telemedicine) connects clinicians, patients, family members and health professionals in real time to provide health services, promote professional collaboration, support self-management and coordinate care. Telehealth units in hospitals already use virtual monitoring of high-risk cardiac patients. Virtual care usage continues to accelerate for several reasons. First, the very nature of the offering broadens access to healthcare services, especially for those in remote rural areas or some emerging countries. Second, early studies have shown that patients are using virtual visits to replace emergency department, urgent care and office visits, often in return for a discount.⁸ This cost saving is something that insurers and patients will increasingly gravitate to, especially as studies emerge that can prove attributable savings. Finally, the younger generation, who are used to the convenience of apps such as Uber, put value in services that offer them the chance to get personalized medical advice without having to travel to a clinic.⁹
The ‘future of health’ scenario illustrates in more detail how the pervasive and seamless use of apps and connected devices could transform both the patient’s experience and the healthcare industry itself.
Future of health scenario
Source: World Economic Forum / Accenture analysis
We expect four digital themes to be especially important as the industry moves towards a fully digital healthcare system over the next decade.
Patient outcomes will be improved and the cost of healthcare reduced, by using precision medicine, robotics and medical printing.
Healthcare will move closer to the home through advances in the connected home and virtual care, which will also help broaden access, especially in maturing economies.
Through the development of ‘living services’, empowered care initiatives will enable citizens to take a more active role in managing their own well-being and healthcare.
|Intelligent health enterprises|
Data-driven solutions will enable healthcare workers and their enterprises to maximize their efficiency and allow patient health to be monitored more effectively in real time.
Digital is driving the systemic shift to value-based healthcare. New intelligence, in hardware and other objects, is bridging the gap between the digital and the physical worlds. Hospitals, physicians’ offices and payers are accessible with a click, tap or scroll. Highly connected hardware components, along with smart sensors and devices, help payers and providers deliver better health outcomes at lower cost, coupled with convenience and a better consumer experience.
Today, delivering consumer health outcomes offers a distinct competitive advantage; in a few years, it will become a catalyst for transformation. Beyond that, it will be nothing less than a strategy for survival.
Our recommendations for businesses and other stakeholders looking to maximize the value of digitalization in healthcare include:
- Formulate an outside-in strategy to shift from focusing on managing inputs as a medical business to delivering outputs.
- Perform a holistic analysis of resources to determine the capabilities needed to win in future profit pools.
- Create a culture of iterative innovation to remain relevant by acting now and learning to fail quickly.
- Build resources for the digital era through bold investments rather than incremental improvements.
- Champion the customer experience, as pioneering organizations will start to reorient themselves around the consumer.
- Build an insight-driven enterprise by engaging in a holistic and pragmatic analytics strategy.
- Become a destination partner and camp, as the creation of an ecosystem of partners will be critical to success.
Recommendations for governments and policy leaders include:
- Liberate data sources to clarify that patients are the ultimate owners of their clinical data and facilitate the transfer of this data between providers, according to the patients’ wishes.
- Invest in data standards and infrastructure to accelerate the mandate for health-data repositories to integrate seamlessly with one another and to create a single data-exchange protocol.
- Establish interoperability requirements on a global as opposed to a national level, and make interoperability a condition of payments to health systems.
- Cultivate the workforce of the future by encouraging professionals to operate at the top of their licence and by improving access to new educational media, such as massive open online courses.
- Encourage an innovation haven by attracting and retaining talented citizens through policies such as tax incentives for start-ups and urban development designed to create information-intensive environments.
1 World Health Organization, World Health Statistics 2015
2 World Health Organization, “National health accounts – estimates of national health expenditures”, 2015
3 Bajekal, Naina, “Japan’s Aging Population Woes Worsen with New Record Low Birth-Rate in 2014”, Time, 2 January 2015
4 United Nations, World Population Ageing 2013, 2013
5 International Diabetes Federation, IDF Diabetes Atlas: Sixth Edition, 2014
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion”, 18 May 2015
7 Stanton, Mark W., “The High Concentration of U.S. Health Care Expenditures”, Research in Action, no. 19, June 2006
8 Tahir, Darius, “Virtual visits cheaper, even if other factors considered”, Modern Healthcare, 12 December 2014
9 Tollefson, Rodika, “Virtual care a growing trend locally, nationally”, Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal, 8 June 2015