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Three trends defining the future of healthcare

Three trends defining the future of healthcare

The weakness of the present healthcare system revealed by the Covid-19 crisis, along with the rise in chronic diseases associated with lifestyle changes and a rapidly ageing population worldwide, will shape the future of healthcare

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Digital health
The pandemic will accelerate the further digitalisation of the healthcare industry, particularly with a focus on telemedicine, mobile health and medical technology (medtech).

Medtech is a broad sector that encompasses the use of any technology that can save or improve the quality of life of individuals suffering from a multitude of health conditions. Simply put, medtech may range from familiar objects such as syringes and hearing aids to more sophisticated devices such as medical robots, body scanners, intraocular lens and replacement joints for knees and hips.

For example, the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis has revealed many countries’ willingness to deploy medtech as part of the national efforts to deal with a public health emergency situation. In China, for instance, medical robots are used to provide support to frontline medical workers by aiding them in the cleaning and disinfection of hospital wards and publicly shared spaces, measurement of patients’ temperature, distribution of medical supplies to patients, delivery of food to both patients and health workers, reduction of the workload of medical staff, and minimising of contact between people so as to lower the risk of cross infection. Other examples include Belgium, Italy and South Korea, which have also turned to medtech to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. In particular, medical robots have been deployed in hospitals and public places of these countries to distribute hand sanitiser and to ensure that face masks are properly worn.

Genomics
It may be easy for us to get emotionally worked up as a result of the intensive media coverage of the current pandemic, along with the unprecedented implementation of lockdowns worldwide, and think that Covid-19 is the world’s only health challenge.

But of course, medical professionals are also silently fighting battles against other deadly diseases, and it is vital not to lose sight of that fact.

In particular, cell and gene therapies have increasingly emerged as a promising treatment option for a myriad of complex clinical conditions. These may include genetic disorders that arise from malignant mutations in our DNA, such as cancer and sickle-cell disease, as well as non-genetically acquired diseases, such as Ebola, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the bubonic plague.

Extended longevity
The growing prevalence of chronic diseases associated with the increasing share of the greying population will have profound implications for the healthcare systems for decades to come. It is therefore in this context that assistive technologies that enable healthcare professionals to continuously monitor the health conditions of the elderly should become even more important in the future.

Older patients can benefit in a number of ways from the progressive uptake of digital-health technologies. Not only can healthcare specialists help ageing individuals reduce the likelihood of contracting more severe forms of chronic diseases through the early detection of health abnormalities, but hospital admissions can also be avoided, thereby relieving pressure from healthcare systems and keeping a lid on burgeoning medical costs.

Thanks to digital-health technologies, data related to patients’ blood oxygen saturation, heart rate and blood pressure can be measured via remote monitoring tools such as wearables and transmitted from the comfort of the patients’ homes to their physicians in real time. In other words, senior citizens no longer have to undertake long journeys to see their medical providers or endure long queues and big crowds at clinics and hospitals for simple medical examinations, especially in countries where geographical constraints, public transport and healthcare systems pose additional challenges.

The road ahead
The future of healthcare will be shaped by favourable structural trends and developments in the industry. In particular, areas that are related to digital health, genomics and extended longevity should see further upside potential over the longer term, given the political tailwinds, momentous demographic forces around the world, the rise of chronic diseases associated with ageing, as well as the growing financial burden of medical care.

Dr Damien Ng is the Next Generation analyst at Bank Julius Baer

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