The consulting firm Deloitte have just released their annual report on health care around the world. The 2014 Global Health Care Sector Outlook examines medical sector statistics and trends, identifying the challenges and considerations likely to affect health care professionals, advocates and patients around the world in 2014.
In this year’s report, Deloitte have focused on four Health Care Sector Top Issues: aging population and chronic diseases; cost and quality; access to care; and technology.
Deloitte researchers, and indeed statisticians around the world, have noted that life expectancies are on the rise – and this increase in an older population is placing a large burden on health care systems. The Deloitte report notes that in the past half century, the global population of people over the age of 60 has tripled, and although aging population is an issue that primarily affects the most wealthy countries, experts estimate that in the next 10 to 20 years, developing nations too will see health care systems taxed by more and more older patients.
An aging population will lead to more health care demand in large part due to chronic disease. Issues such as stroke, diabetes and cancer are most likely to affect adults over the age of 60, and heart disease is one of the biggest killers around the globe. In their Health Care Sector report, Deloitte indicate an expectation that with rising rates of chronic disease will come more focus on education programs that encourage healthy lifestyle, as well as scientific endeavours to find new cures and preventions for these illnesses.
Deloitte’s second Top Issue for 2014, cost and quality, refers to rising health care costs across the world – however the United States in particular will be working to quell its enormous medical system spending in the coming year. A 2013 Commonwealth Fund survey found that the United States is spending more than US$8,000 per person on health care every year – that’s nearly US$3,000 more per person than is spent in Norway, a country known for its high health care costs.
Still, other nations are also struggling with the rising price of health care. Many countries must contend with expensive new pharmaceuticals, prolonged stays in hospital and overuse of medical services – it is estimated that in the United States, unnecessary medical services account for 30 percent of the nation’s total health care spending.
High medical costs can prevent patients from seeking treatment, and the Top Issue access to care discusses this point. Besides price of care, potential patients may also be discouraged from medical treatment due to a lack of staff. Data from the Economist Intelligence Unit demonstrates that numbers of doctors in the next few years are not expected to grow, meaning that current shortages of medical personnel will only increase. What’s more, developing nations can expect to see a continuation of uneven distribution of doctors, leading to lack of medical access for families living in rural or undeveloped areas.
Workforce shortages occur for a number of reasons. To begin, there is the problem of migrating skilled workers: in Nigeria, Pakistan and India, for example, many doctors and nurses will move to another country after receiving their medical qualifications in search of better pay and security. Even when medical professionals do remain in their home country, they may choose the higher pay offered by a job in a major metropolitan area.
Another reason for lack of access to medical care is a lack of modern facilities or infrastructure. The Deloitte report gives the example of India, wherein 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas – many of which lack adequate medical facilities, or any medical facilities at all. Similarly, hospital building efforts across Mexico have suffered, largely due to underfunding by the government and the failure of public and private health care partnerships: a situation which has led to fewer-than-necessary hospitals and a shortage of modern medical equipment in some areas.
Finally, the Top Issue technology alludes to the ongoing surge in medical tools for health care and data. Deloitte expect that new technology could contribute to the medical sector in many ways: 3-D printing might be used to create tissue suitable for human transplant; new drugs could open new possibilities into disease treatment and prevention; and advancements in electronic medical records may very soon improve communication and data collection – a boon to patients and doctors as well as administrators and public policy-makers.
Unfortunately, the rising prevalence of medical technologies will also mean higher costs for hospitals. Developing as well as developed countries may find it difficult to come up with the funds to acquire new medical tools, but at the same time, coordinating with global partners may be difficult if similar technological improvements are not implemented. Deloitte also predict that increasing use of medical technology will open up some safety and security risks, and researchers expect that as technology develops, data privacy tools and laws will be seen as well: in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services have already introduced measures to protect patient privacy.
Across all four of these Health Care Sector Top Issues, Deloitte points to one idea in particular that will be increasingly important to global medical care: glocalization. A word representing the global reach of health as well as the local ways in which new information and technology are applied, glocalization exemplifies a modern health care system wherein local challenges and solutions can be felt on a global scale, and vice versa. An economic downfall in the United States will affect Europe’s health care budget, one traveler can spread MERS from the Middle East to China, and pharmaceutical innovations have the potential to improve disease outcome around the world.
For more information on Deloitte’s research into individual nations’ health care sectors for 2014, click here for the follow up report - The Global Health Care Sector Outlook: Part 2.