Healthcare ecosystems across the world are grappling to address the long-standing challenge of affordability. A recently conducted survey revealed that globally, on an average, 58 percent adults cannot afford good healthcare as of 2021. A report released by the World Health Organization and World Bank states that more than 100 million households are forced into abject poverty owing to healthcare costs.
In addition to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a glaring display of challenges to healthcare in terms of affordability and social inequity. It has also re-emphasised the need for safely accessible, value-based care. This consequently led to a sharp uptake of digital health solutions.
However, it is first important to understand what digital health entails and how it can help make healthcare affordable. At Optum, we define digital health as the ecosystem of technologies, services, and interactions that allow individuals to engage with the health system in a digitally enabled, convenient way.
Today, digital health solutions are helping improve efficiency through automation, lowering costs, and providing quality care. A recent report states that such digital capabilities have the potential to reduce medical costs in the US by $175 to 220 billion, annually.
As digital health solutions send ripples of change across traditional healthcare models, five technology trends stand out.
Telehealth offers patients an opportunity to connect with care providers safely and virtually through a phone or video consultation, especially in areas lacking resources. Owing to these features, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth to “38x from the pre COVID-19 baseline”, as stated in a recent report by McKinsey.
Overall, telehealth can significantly improve the patient journey, experience, and health outcomes. Bringing care to the consumers’ doorstep enables convenience and affordability for the consumers by identifying conditions early on.
The potential value from telehealth is immense and can be expanded to managing chronic conditions, prolonged care, and home-based diagnostics. As providers explore possible opportunities and accomplish scalability, we will continue to see the positive impact of telehealth services on consumer experience, outcomes, and affordability.
2. Predictive analytics
The volume of data within healthcare systems, when empowered by predictive analytics and machine learning, has the potential to help predict unnecessary utilisation of resources, at-risk patients, and necessary interventions required to support both patients and providers, thereby helping improve quality of care and reduce overall costs.
Predictions about propensity to chronic conditions, readmissions etc that can result in high-cost treatment can help providers arrive at more definitive diagnosis, early interventions, and curbing negative outcomes.
3. Artificial Intelligence
The healthcare system has been plagued with disproportionate allocation of resources to an inconsistent flow of patients, resulting in dissatisfied consumers and high administrative costs.
Today, healthcare providers are progressively turning to AI to optimise utilization and allocation of resources. AI has the prowess to rewire active models based on historical data and generate sustainable models, ensuring personalised care and enhanced productivity, and improving outcomes and lowering costs.
Similarly, high drug costs continue to burden the consumer. This leads to lower adherence to prescribed medication. However, with the advent of digital tools that utilise AI-based algorithms, providers can suggest alternative drugs, which constitute the same base substitute but are relatively cheaper and deliver the same value as the prescribed drug. AI is also contributing towards reducing the cost of new drug discovery.
4. Digital therapeutics
Digital therapeutics comprise apps and devices developed with the use of deep analytics and artificial intelligence that are being prescribed alongside traditional treatment methods to directly improve a patient’s journey and reduce costs. Digital therapeutics have vast potential and can help predict chronic conditions before they arise, resulting in improved health outcomes.
Healthcare providers are working on the development of digital therapeutics across areas from oncology to cardiovascular to renal and immunology and it is only a matter of time till they become common prescriptions. The global market for digital therapeutics is projected to reach $23,569.38 million by 2030.
In the last decade, genomic medicine has risen to prominence in clinical medicine, with significant advances in oncology (cancer), cardiology, neurology, and other fields. Gene sequencing has become much more affordable, which has helped medical treatment across the world. At present, the overall cost of sequencing a single human genome has dropped from $100 million in 2001 to less than $1,000. This evolution has aided pharmaceutical companies in developing tailored treatments and providing doctors with diagnostic tests that allow them to treat patients more quickly and effectively. All these advantages have led to one specific goal – to diagnose and treat patients efficiently while detecting illness propensity at an early stage, thanks to the existence of specific genetic markers.
Improving healthcare affordability
As the healthcare ecosystem continues to evolve, the key to affordability is sustaining the expansion of digital technology. Consumers will continue to benefit as these digital doorways make healthcare more accessible and affordable. The future chipping of costs depends on the continued investment into the innovation and development of digital tools that can serve as life-saving forces.