The Future of Health Care and You

Surgery in a public hospital in Hong Kong, China.
Surgery in a public hospital in Hong Kong, China.

By Susann Roth

Expect more focus on preventing diseases, investing in mass-produced standardized care for all, and advancing health care frontiers through customized care for the individual.

I believe health care and the way we think of it needs to change.

Currently we understand health care as mainly the treatment of sick people. Up to 70% of health care cost is spent on diagnosis and treatment in Asia-Pacific countries. This will lead to exorbitant health care expenditure on a population which is not only getting older but also sicker with changing lifestyles and exposure to environmental health threats leading to increasing chronic diseases and cancer. Health care systems currently encourage investments in tertiary care and in financing mechanisms, which pay for diseases. This has to change.

To do so, below are 3 future health care trends we should facilitate.

1. Pay for health instead of diseases

We need to invest in prevention; our default lifestyle should be a healthy one, and the living environment of people should be conducive to live healthy lives. In order to achieve this, governments need to take a “health in all policies” approach, and consider health as a fundamental good thing for society and the economy. Urban planning, investments in housing, education, water and sanitation and agriculture all need to be sensible to positive health impacts. Social media’s power of creating opinions, lifestyle choices and trends should be used to change people’s behavior to stay healthy. Governments should spend more on primary care areas like prevention or early diagnostic procedures to detect chronic diseases, and outreach. For people who still get serious diseases, a responsive integrated health care system should cover catastrophic expenditures.

2. Affordable, quality care

In many Asia-Pacific countries the quality of health care is relative. This should not be the case. We need to invest in better regulatory frameworks to ensure that all people have access to safe medicines, and health professionals follow care pathways and standards that can be measured and evaluated. You can pretty much compare this with quality control in any other industry. To become affordable, health care will need to become mass-produced, standardized, and well coordinated. We need seamless patient care, which reduces medical errors, improves health care quality, and lowers costs by avoiding unnecessary duplication of services. We are seeing these trends already in India, where the price for cardiac and cataract surgeries or dialysis has been brought down by reducing the cost of medical products, introducing care standards which can be replicated easily, and ensuring quality control similar to industrial engineering processes. This will make standard health care affordable without compromising on quality. Patients will be able to “shop around” for their care needs from reviewed health care websites that compare prices and quality like Amazon or Tripadvisor. ICT-enabled hub and spoke models will increase reach to patients in a personnel-constrained health care environment.

3. Customized health care

In the future we also hope to see more personalized health care, tailored to individual needs. Patients will have personal medical records linked to their devices that report data in real time and providing immediate feedback. Personal medical records will facilitate harmonized medical data for Big Data analysis. Researchers will track disease and treatment data from millions of people, and use algorithms to calculate recommendations catered to individual needs. Treatment of diseases will be adjusted to the genetic profile of each patient. This is expensive bow, but will become more affordable as cheaper DNA sequencing tools are developed to meet increasing demand for more and better health data. Customized health care will deliver more effective care, leading to better health outcomes, which will ultimately reduce health care costs.

The future of health care is preventing diseases, investing in mass-produced standardized care for all, and advancing health care frontiers through customized care for the individual. Yes, I am very excited about the future.