How we can fix the world’s failing healthcare systems

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Finally, and more obviously, fundamental demographic shifts are changing the world of healthcare, with ageing populations that live longer and work longer, which can have both positive and negative effects. The “evidence shows that working can aid resilience in later life by boosting cognitive function,” says Maria Konovalenko, an ageing expert at the University of Southern California. “However, there are physical changes to contend with. Chronic inflammation is a serious problem for older people.” For those that don’t work, a lack of social connections also has serious side effects, says Konovalenko: “Loneliness is massively detrimental to health.”

Taken together, these trends result in rapidly escalating healthcare costs. That in turn drives many consumers to look for quick and easy solutions beyond their traditional medical support systems. Their starting points are often a web search or seeing a video or story that’s going viral on social networks. The endpoint, however, is in many cases confusion or misinformation, spread by dubious ‘influencers’. “People that are unqualified are ready to offer all sorts of advice. These people might have millions of followers, and it’s just magnifying the dangers,” warns Scott. The result is a huge and growing healthcare gap, that needs to be filled if we want to avoid failure, says Bertalan Mesko, founder of The Medical Futurist.

Maneesh Juneja, a digital health futurist, says: “The existing model of care is broken, unsustainable and not fit for purpose, given the rise in chronic conditions and everyday pain.”

However, as the Future of Consumer Health report shows, which was commissioned by leading global consumer health, hygiene and home company RB and developed in collaboration with health futurists, a whole raft of new and dramatically different approaches to prevention and healthcare has the potential to fill this gap and transform public health around the world.

Just like the consumerisation of IT has transformed the world of work, we are now on the verge of the consumerisation of healthcare, thanks to wearables that help people to self-diagnose their key vital data, or make them accessible remotely, to avoid costly and time-consuming hospital visits.

Add even more radical new technologies like diagnostics powered by artificial intelligence, virtual reality treatments, nanotechnology and personalised probiotics, and it’s no surprise that “in the next five to 10 years, we’ll witness a paradigm shift as technology empowers consumers, who want to be involved and engaged, to take control of their health,” says Mesko.

We live in a world that’s conditioned by technological breakthroughs to expect real-time, on-demand, convenient and seamless solutions. Already, wearables can go way beyond measuring our pulse and blood oxygen. Engineers at Rutgers University, for example, have developed a microchip that can be put into a smartwatch to analyse the sweat of its wearer and identify early signs of ill health. Digital technology can also help nudge patients towards behavioural changes, for example by helping them with their diet or making them stick to a treatment plan.

The opportunities, however, are much bigger. Scientists predict that smart speakers in people’s homes will not only be able to spot whether a person is coming down with a cold, but could even “detect early signs of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” says Juneja.

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