Future of Health: Shift from treating illnesses to managing wellness

January 13th, 2020

The digitization of patient health records has and will continue to be a game-changer. Patients today have wider access to a set of health and wellness solutions they can personalize to their unique needs.

The future of health system will see a shift…

…from treating patient illness to managing consumer health and wellness

…from accepting one-size-fits-all to precision health solutions

…from a reactive system to a holistic and predictive approach

…from extending life to improving quality of life over a lifetime

We will see more treatment options for common diseases like genetic disorders, common cancers, and cardiovascular disease, while at the same time balancing emerging health risks such as those brought about from climate change, biosecurity issues and neurodegenerative disorders. According to Dr. Rob Grenfell, Director of CSIRO’s Health and Biosecurity Business Unit, health care will need to formulate new ways of combatting existing health issues as well as address new ones, including:

  • Neurodegenerative disorders – 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia and this figure is predicted to double in 20 years. However, emerging biomarker and imaging technologies that identify early indicators of these diseases, and allow for early intervention, have the potential to rapidly curb growth beyond the next 15 years.
  • Rare and less common (RLC) cancers – Common cancers continue to experience reductions in mortality, however, this has not been the case for RLC cancers such as pancreatic and renal where the diagnosis remains slow and treatment availability is limited.
  • Biosecurity concerns – Globalization and migration continue to increase the flow of people, livestock, and plants across borders increasing the risk of a significant biosecurity event. These events would be particularly harmful in the likely context of a future where anti-microbial resistance has reached a point that leaves countries critically vulnerable.
  • Effects of environmental change– As the impacts of climate change and urbanization become more severe, so will their impact on public health. Worsening air quality will result in an increase in respiratory issues and high-density living could result in the faster spread of disease and negative impacts on water supply and sanitation.

Could a shift in how we think about health be the answer to meeting current and future healthcare needs? Instead of waiting for people to get sick and then engage with the health system, we need to find ways to engage people to take a more preventative and proactive approach to staying well. Innovations in technology are helping fuel this shift, many of which are being driven by consumers who want more of a say in their health journey. Putting the patient at the center encourages widespread collaboration, globally and across specialties, as well as behavior changes on the part of health practitioners and patients.

Digitized data is the catalyst

The digitization of patient health records has and will continue to be a game-changer. Patients today have wider access to a set of health and wellness solutions they can personalize to their unique needs. From Fitbits, smartwatches to internet-connected insulin pumps, patients can monitor and manage their health as well as share information with their health providers. This can lead to increased efficiency, improved predictive capabilities, greater personalization, and access to this enhanced care.

In 2017 over 318,000 mobile health apps were available to manage one’s health and wellness. And that number is increasing as companies like IBM, Amazon, Google, and a wide range of start-ups continually introduce new, innovative digital health solutions. However, many remain unregulated despite making health claims and have no accountability for the health outcomes they may lead to. The amount of data captured is fueling advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, big data analytics, virtual reality and augmented reality applications, and robots, to list a few.

The sheer volume of data available is helping medical experts and scientists to train algorithms to extract more precise and diverse insights that enable medical breakthroughs and better patient care. However, data does not necessarily equal knowledge. Trust in data sharing, digital and health literacy, data ownership and system interoperability are some of the barriers holding us back from a more integrated and data-enabled health system.

Precision medicine, AI, analytics, cloud computing and outcome-based mindsets have the potential to improve a patient’s quality of care, specifically by allowing for quicker and more accurate diagnoses, higher-quality treatment plans, and new ways of managing processes. However, it is crucial that technology is not seen as a replacement for the human touch and that emerging technologies are regulated to ensure they are safe.

The race is on to expand the impact that technology can have on global healthcare. Success hinges on many factors including defining the right balance between face-to-face healthcare provider and patient interactions with automated diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

CSIRO plays a leading role in achieving this vision, translating our world-class science into practical real-world outcomes. We partner with universities, industry and government to build capabilities in traditional and emerging health fields. Everything we do, we do with deep consultation and in partnership with doctors, nurses, researchers, patients and communities – so that when the solutions are ready they are tried, true and trusted.