Health systems have had to cope with countless challenges ranging from new waves of the COVID pandemic, the delivery of mass vaccination programs in scope and speed, dealing with declining workforce and a markedly increased burden of non-communicable disease as an unexpected consequence of the pandemic.
The past year has been remarkable in that elements of digital transformation have emerged across the globe and in some places have moved beyond telecommunications health to include data-driven decision-making. The following four broad areas will inevitably become the major areas of interest in the coming years.
The urgency with which governments globally seek to transform their services to become more sustainable has been accelerated as the climate crisis becomes more real and the effects of climate change clearer. The provision of health services is an essential component of a country’s CO2 footprint, and it is no surprise that sustainability in the provision of health care is now a big ticket.
Despite advances in making therapeutic agents more sustainable and less harmful, exemplified by the changes in propellants in inhalers, there is much to be done. Digital modalities and mixed approaches to managing care will help reduce unnecessary patient travel, and there are changes that will no doubt be needed for supply chains for materials and to better manage ever-growing, COVID-driven clinical waste. There are governments that prioritize these changes, and there will no doubt be more to follow.
Security is now the subject of growth and great interest as a result of the pandemic. Health security is largely the responsibility of governments whose covenant with citizens includes keeping them safe from public health incidents, whether they are infectious, such as COVID, or chemical or radiological. Increasing use of digital modalities has increased the potential for more comprehensive surveillance and preparedness, and we are seeing examples of cross-border initiatives to ensure we are better prepared for the next pandemic. Health safety also includes better management of antimicrobial resistance. Just because our attention has been elsewhere, this growing and global problem has unfortunately not disappeared.
It is inevitable that labor shortages will remain a high and increasing priority. Care providers have had a tremendous amount of time over the last few years as a result of COVID, and burnout rates have increased as a result. Moreover, the usual waves of migrant workers have not been as accessible, discouraged from crossing borders and in some cases exhausted and wanting to stay in their home countries with their families. Hasty digital implementations have exacerbated these already challenging workplaces, and we still do not support our workforce as effectively as we could, or train them in the new skills required for the personalized mixed healthcare that is evolving worldwide.
- Life course approaches to better manage non-communicable diseases
Health systems move relentlessly from “remedying” symptoms and disease to also include delaying symptoms, and in some cases the diseases themselves, as they better meet human needs. This trend is being exhibited all over the world and disease prevention and the economic metrics that are driving healthcare systems to better deliver value rather than volume, the new frontier. All this is made possible by the increasing distribution of health information exchanges, some within health systems and some within countries or even outside.
Digital transformation and implementations make these changes possible, and as a result, completely new industries have emerged that support health and well-being, that engage people more and enable them to take more responsibility for managing their lives. We will see several major attempts to encourage these trends, some of which will also include gamification to be a push to provide external motivation until people develop their own internal motivation to better manage their healthy behaviors.
What will the new world look like?
We can look forward to a world where the benefits of artificial intelligence and a better understanding of all the factors that affect health will lead to the opportunity for us to live healthier and more productive lives. Health systems will be adapted to support all of these changes. However, not everything is rosy. We still have to come to terms with this pandemic and be much better prepared for the next one, and we still have very significant inequalities to overcome both nationally and globally. Only then can HIMSS ‘vision be better delivered – To realize the full health potential of every human being, everywhere.
Dr. Charles Alessi is the Chief Clinical Officer at HIMSS.