Four global universals of healthcare technology


Every day we read about another shift in the technicalities and funding of the Affordable Care Act, a controversy at the U.S. Department Health & Human Services or the ability to buy health insurance across state borders. To spin an old Tip O’Neill line, one could argue that, “All healthcare is local.”  Many in Europe, Asia and Latin America would likely argue the same as it relates to their own local healthcare systems.

But regardless of the nuances of national healthcare funding and governance, there are some foundational drivers that are universal when it comes to healthcare through a global lens. It should be no surprise that these all are in various ways driven by technology transformation.

1. Not enough beds!

With precious few exceptions, there are not enough hospital beds for the patients that need them around the world. Frost & Sullivan predicts a shortage of 3.4 million hospital beds in 2018 in Asia alone!

One could ask what that has to do with technology. The fact is that until technology enables greater prevention, and remote monitoring or visits, patients will be required to go into a bricks-and-mortar hospital for treatment. The magnitude is obviously greater in emerging markets with huge populations, but a walk through the emergency department in many U.S. hospitals will show that we share the challenges of patients on gurneys in the hallways waiting for beds.

2. Aging and the gray tsunami

We’re surely familiar with the scale of the baby boomer generation in the U.S., but this is dwarfed by many countries like Japan, Korea and China, where upward of 40 percent of the population is over 60. In Japan for example, the average lifespan is over 85 years old, the highest in the world.

As detailed in an earlier blog, many international studies show that boredom can rank higher than diabetes as a leading cause of death among the elderly. Technologies that keep the elderly connected will become critical to decreasing mortality rates and the price of healthcare to treat that demographic.

New artificial intelligence and data analytics initiatives related to population health and precision medicine will also identify global aspects of aging and disease to make treatments more targeted and efficient.

3. Increased consumerization of healthcare

More people would go home after forgetting their cell phone than they would for their wallet. This phenomena is even greater in some emerging markets.

The mobile device is becoming an extension of the healthcare system on a global scale. Citizens are watching closely for signs of the “uberization” of wellness, treatment and payment relationships. In fact, ride share itself has become an extension of ambulatory care transport.

At the most basic level, healthcare consumers are looking for dependable ways to identify physicians, schedule appointments or see waiting times at healthcare providers.

Depending on the healthcare insurance system, the consumerized global patient is expecting reliable online estimates on how much their insurance pays versus how much out of pocket will be incurred.

On the wellness side, the Fitbit phenomena is occurring on a global scale as can be seen in their “Fittest Countries in the World” report.

4. Shift to a value-based care model

Value-based care reimbursed on quality rather than quantity has emerged globally as an alternative — and in some cases a requirement — over fee-for-service care. While it may seem ironic that one needs to emphasize value over volume delivery of care, the fact is that many providers and physicians were fast and loose about the volume of reimbursements submitted to insurers. One could argue that in most cases these procedures were required for diagnosis or treatment, however in far too many cases providers were undisciplined in the number of tests and procedures required.

As the sheer number of patients increases around the world, providing assurances that there is a “meaningful use” of healthcare technologies has become a key theme regardless of whether patients or governments are footing the majority of the care costs.

Technology has become critical in assuring that diagnoses are much more predictive and that precision medicine and artificial intelligence technologies narrow down treatment alternatives to reduce extraneous costs.

While many of the themes above were looked at strictly through individual country lenses, the incredible diversity within many countries, coupled with geographic displacements, has made health data analytics a global phenomenon.

“Population health without borders” will be the new mantra for healthcare visionaries!


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