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Healthcare: What the future holds in store

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With an ageing population in Asia and a scenario that foresees an increase in cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, shouldn't we be looking at 'clinical utopia'?

 The increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases and an ageing population means healthcare resources will continue to struggle to meet the growing demand.
In the next decade, more Asians will suffer from chronic diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, which will put strain on healthcare systems across Asia Pacific. It is expected that by 2040 there will be 350 million diabetics living in Asia, an increase of 110 million in about 20 years. By 2025 about 80 per cent of the deaths in the developed countries in Asia will be due to non-communicable diseases, while in emerging markets dual-disease dynamics will still be observed.
In parallel, we will see the number of elderly in Asia continue to rise. It is expected that the expenditure for elderly care in the region will increase fivefold by 2030 compared to that of 2015 . This again will put additional strain on healthcare systems and economies across Asia. In Thailand for instance, the growing number of elderly will undoubtedly lead to higher expenditure in health care, affecting the size of Thai economy by as much as 4.4 per cent in the next decade.
And with the middle-class continuing to grow, by 2030, Asia could represent two thirds of the global middle class population, creating an even greater demand for quality healthcare .
Meeting this demand however, will prove to be a challenge. The next 10 years will see a shortfall of nearly 18 million healthcare professionals in Asia Pacific. This will be exacerbated by a lack of efficient management in public health, insufficient infrastructure and restricted healthcare funding, especially in emerging markets. The gap between demand and supply is expected to increase in the coming years.
To address this challenge, healthcare providers and the industry as a whole will have to transform business models by using innovative technologies to make healthcare provision more efficient while also improving access. To this end, many countries have already embarked on Smart Health initiatives in various forms. 
Many of these initiatives aim to move healthcare services for chronic disease management from hospitals to the community, closer to the patient. This will not only decrease overcrowding in hospitals, but make healthcare more affordable, efficient and patient-oriented. This is being enabled by innovation in digital technologies and platforms. A widely used platform is mHealth (Mobile Health), which allows doctors to diagnose patients through the use of smartphones. It is expected that 40 per cent of the doctor-patient consultations in the future will move from face to face to digital mHealth. This also includes remote diagnostics.
Another exciting trend in healthcare provision is Internet Hospitals, which are taking centre stage in the US and China. In this model, the majority of healthcare delivery is provided by digital means, except in the case of surgery or emergency cases where patients will still need to physically see medical professionals in a traditional setting. This is a rapidly evolving trend across Asia Pacific with South Korea and Australia planning similar models.
While many of these models are already being implemented, the rapidly evolving healthcare environment presents both challenges and opportunities. To understand this in greater detail, Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific recently conducted an extensive study on the future of healthcare in Asia Pacific focusing especially on in vitro diagnostics (IVD).
The study has been conducted through collaboration with numerous stakeholders within and outside healthcare industry and across various Asian markets. The aim was to understand what the ideal healthcare environment – where every individual has access to high quality, affordable healthcare – would look like. The study also delved into what would constitute the patient journey in this “clinical utopia”. 
In this “clinical utopia”, we will know much more about a baby through non-invasive foetal testing. By the time baby is born, its baseline healthcare profile will already be established. Before or at birth, the baby will have an embedded sensor. This device will monitor various health parameters in real-time which will be uploaded onto a personalised, highly secure cloud. The person will have control and ownership of his/her profile. Based on the information collected, this person will obtain real-time advice provided by artificial intelligence on how to manage his or her health and lifestyle in order to keep healthy. 
In case of sickness, a person will get an alert with crucial information to manage the illness and recommendations from their healthcare providers. What will be truly game-changing is that an individual’s personal intelligence cloud could also feed into a larger population gathering database. This is where the public sector will access information. 
In case of serious illness, the person will be sent to a hospital, which will be equipped with the latest technologies and robots and where care will be provided on-the-spot and efficiently. In the clinical utopia environment, a majority of the diagnosis will be done through sensors and people will be kept out of healthcare system thanks to an efficient and preventive healthcare model. We will see a marked shift from the reactive, episodic care we receive today. As a result, there will be a significant decrease in healthcare costs. 
Ultimately, our ability to effectively harness technology will determine the future of healthcare. Patients today want easier access to care and demand better service, and this trend is here to stay. With this, patient centricity has become, and will continue to be, a focal point for innovation and healthcare delivery, now and well into the future. 

Dr Jozica Habijanic is Country Manager at Roche Diagnostics Philippines and led the study in her former role as Head of Strategic Development at Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific.

Published : September 24, 2018