Aging populations, rising costs and growing public dissatisfaction with long waits, disjointed treatment and lack of access are pushing the healthcare industry toward a breaking point. Digital and virtual technologies promise relief. Today, parents can chat with a doctor online when their child is ill, avoiding long waits in overcrowded doctors’ offices—an option many took advantage of during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of visiting infusion clinics, cancer patients can receive customized biological treatments in the comfort of their own homes. And personal health tracking devices no longer just count our steps; they also can warn of an approaching heart attack or falling insulin levels, in time to prevent a crisis.
Innovations like these give a hint at how the healthcare industry—which virtually every expert observer and patient agrees is badly broken—hopes to cure its ills. But with a growing and aging population, a shortage of doctors and an unsustainable rise in health costs, much more is needed.
“Today’s healthcare industry is in crisis,” said Mikael Benson, a professor at the Center for Personalized Medicine at Sweden’s Linköping University Hospital. “It is characterized by declining budgets, long waiting lists, increasing dissatisfaction among the public, and unequal care. What’s more, many patients are not improved by medication. According to research by the US Food and Drug Administration, treatments are ineffective for up to 75% of patients with common illnesses. When you consider that it costs over US$2.5 billion for each new drug developed, it’s easy to understand why there’s an issue.”
Virtual and digital technologies are already contributing to the fix, and even more ambitious projects are in development. In its “,” Deloitte reports that health systems’ efforts to transition to new models of patient-centered care and smart health approaches are heavily focused on digital and virtual technologies aimed at driving innovation, increasing access and affordability, improving quality and lowering costs.