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Tech and trends in health care

World Health Day: Future healthcare to benefit from AI says World Economic Forum

Future healthcare systems will benefit from using artificial intelligence and digital tools, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum that stresses positive use of AI at the background of the ongoing discussion about benefits and threats from AI developments. The report was published in connection with World Health Day on April 7.

But macro-economic trends, worker well-being and growing inequalities continue to threaten global health systems, Shyam Bishen, Head, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare and Member of Executive Committee, World Economic Forum, stresses in a blog post.

He writes that the pandemic presented the biggest test our modern global healthcare systems have ever seen. It revealed stark inequalities and systemic issues, leaving many systems scarred and struggling to recover.

“But it also demonstrated the effectiveness of new ways of working and digital tools to address some of the challenges faced by the industry. In addition, it allowed for innovation in science and medicines development, distribution and delivery.”

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“The challenges faced by the global health and healthcare sector are set to continue in the future. The near-term issues include worsening mental health, healthcare workforce shortages, supply chain issues, climate change-related challenges and macroeconomic instability.” 

Bishen writes that the longer-term challenges include growing demand for services, an increasing funding gap, a lack of incentives for innovation, widening disparities in overall health and wellness, and variable access to advanced therapies.

World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook lists eight key trends:

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  1. Surging healthcare spend and investment

Global healthcare spend is thought to have grown more than 40% between 2018 and 2022, reaching $12 trillion. At the same time, healthcare investments have also reached record highs in recent years, with attention on areas such as gene immunotherapy and new mRNA vaccines for diseases such as Zika and malaria.

  1. Scientific advancements

Progress in treatments and diagnosis of disease. Precision medicine using biomarkers is increasingly being used, while advancements in liquid biopsies, for example, are changing how cancer is detected.

  1. Digital innovation and AI

The pandemic fired rapid digitalization across healthcare, as with other sectors. And in 2021, digital investments in the healthcare sector nearly doubled to $57 billion, with an emphasis on telehealth and mental health. Tech companies are increasingly focusing on healthcare, while digital health start-ups are also growing rapidly.

There is also growing attention being paid to data – better aggregation and analysis is enabling more informed insights and potentially also prediction and disease modelling.

Meanwhile, AI is being used to support areas including diagnosis, clinical decisions, monitoring and treatment, and workflow. AI-assisted medical imaging is already in use, and many drug companies are exploring AI-assisted drug development.

  1. Alternative care models

Recognizing the importance and power of care provision outside of hospitals, in homes and communities. In fact, growth in expenditure on health provision and care at home is expected to outpace healthcare spend in nearly all other areas. 

  1. Widening inequalities

The pandemic highlighted significant disparities in healthcare coverage, particularly impacting women, children and adolescents. Low- and middle-income countries were particularly affected by disruptions to essential healthcare services. 

  1. Healthcare worker shortages and burnout

The pandemic took its toll on healthcare workers, adding to an already stressed and overworked workforce. Mental health issues and burnout worsened, leading to many professionals leaving the sector as well as reduced recruitment. 

  1. Worsening mental health and well-being

Poor mental health is a worsening issue in society more broadly. Systems have largely underplayed its importance in comparison to physical health, Widespread isolation, stress, uncertainty and loss during lockdowns has left its mark on many people.

  1. Macro-economic issues

Geopolitical tensions, soaring energy prices, inflation and supply chain issues all create increasing costs and friction for the healthcare system. Meanwhile, environmental concerns and the climate crisis are exacerbating many health conditions and the prevalence of some diseases, and also creating challenges in relation to the sector’s sustainability.

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