It’s a tough time to be a doctor. The trend among governments towards austerity means that many are working under heavy budgetary constraints, yet they are also having to cope with an ageing population, new illnesses, and the impending ‘antibiotics apocalypse’ - in which bugs become immune to antibiotics, meaning an almost topdown rethink of medicines.
In many ways, the digital age has also brought with it the tools to help deal with these. It has, however, also thrown up new issues, particularly around people’s expectations of their healthcare experience.
According to the ‘Impact of Advances in Medical Technology on Healthcare Expenditure’ report, conducted on behalf of the Australian government, ‘Increasingly patients are empowering themselves through media such as the internet, which allows them to carry out their own research and then request particular treatments to be made available and to be subsidized through Medicare. In addition, it is argued that private spending on new technologies leads to pressure for public spending to expand and to include these new advances.’
This is particularly true for younger patients and millennials, those ‘born into digital’. They have been raised to expect their physical data and the tools to manage their health to be immediately available, as everything else is in their lives. Healthcare agencies are increasingly turning to mobile apps and social media to cater for these demands, and to move away from the one-size-fits-all service that has always existed, and towards one that works on an individual basis.
The implications that these technologies hold for preventative care are particularly pronounced. Wearables and fitness devices are already providing people with real time data about their wellbeing, and alert them to any problems ahead of time. Advances in DNA sequencing are helping doctors to see potential problems before they occur, and evaluate the best course of action to take. The demand for this kind of health care is clearly high, not only evidenced by the high demand for such products and services, but in the recent ‘State of the Connected Patient’ report by Saleseforce, 71% of millennials said they would be interested in a mobile app from a doctor or healthcare provider that enabled them to actively manage their well-being for preventative care, review health records and schedule appointments.
Technology is also greatly improving people’s access to doctors. A recent study found that more than 37% of people already text, email, video-chat, or even Facebook their doctors, and apps like Doctor On Demand connect people (electronically) to any number of specialists within minutes of logging on.
Over the past 50 years healthcare spending has increased significantly as a percentage of GDP, and will continue to rise as the population ages. Innovation usually helps cut costs, but development of medical technology does not always come quickly or cheaply. However, investors are clearly paying attention. The authors of Bain & Company’s 2015 Global Healthcare Private Equity Report wrote that: ’Healthcare continues to be an attractive but challenging area for PE (private equity) investment. By sector, medtech and related services was the clear leader, as large corporate carve-outs helped deal values soar to nearly five times the level seen in 2013. Diagnostics continued to be the most popular medtech segment, with high activity in developed markets as well as China.’
Being able to access your doctor from anywhere is especially beneficial to those in rural locations who may not be able to access a surgery easily. Preventative medicine also has clear benefits over reactive medicines. Given the vast costs, however, and the demands being placed on doctors, it remains to be seen whether it will truly be utilized effectively.