Funding and access to healthcare are the two biggest roadblocks globally preventing the development of a more efficient and effective healthcare infrastructure, according to a new survey of healthcare professionals by Polycom, Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM). Additionally, the global findings illustrated that regionally, respondents from APAC (20%) and EMEA (30%) believe that an aging population poses the greatest challenge to healthcare in 2025; while heavy demand on health service infrastructure was the biggest strain on the industry in North America.
The study, which polled more than 1,200 healthcare industry professionals from around the world, also revealed that technology developments such as mobile, the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, offers the most promising way to overcome healthcare bottlenecks by 2025. However, in order to achieve this goal, senior technologists must take a seat at the boardroom table to ensure technology is integrated correctly, so as to achieve the digital transformation needed to move from treating only the sick to prevention and wellness.
When asked about the largest inhibitors to achieving a better healthcare future, most respondents, regardless of the geography, identified funding, access to healthcare and lack of government support as key inhibitors.
However, when segmented by occupation, the views of healthcare professionals working on the ground and those in management differed. For instance in APAC, those working in executive, finance, innovation and planning roles believe the largest inhibitor is access to healthcare. Comparatively, those in nursing, administration and patient services believe it is funding that posed the greatest challenge. Only in North America were both ground level and management staff generally in agreement, stating that accessibility to healthcare as a result of income disparity is the largest inhibitor.
”Healthcare delivery is evidently shifting in light of challenges such as physician shortages and rapidly aging societies, and requires digital transformation in order to cope with the pressures placed on the industry,” said Ron Emerson, Global Director, Healthcare at Polycom. “In recent years, it has become clear that technology holds the key to the future of healthcare. The survey findings highlight how the industry can best integrate and utilize game-changing technological developments, to accelerate telemedicine or telehealth applications, to maximize its potential and realise new models of care delivery by 2025.”
Government – barrier or enabler of healthcare innovation?
Many respondents were cautiously optimistic with regard to regulators, believing that government agencies are already in the process of amending their policies in response to rapid innovations within the healthcare landscape. Conversely, a significant number of respondents expressed no confidence at all, specifically North America (46%), South East Asia (43%) and Australia (39%).
The survey also found that in general, respondents’ viewpoints correlated with the current political, economic and social (PES) climate in their respective countries around healthcare. Countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam for instance displayed a positive outlook towards government policy, especially as technology increasingly plays a critical role in their daily lives. For one, the mobile revolution has catapulted millions into the digital age, with people in rural areas now using smartphones for services previously not available to them – such as e-commerce and data logging.
Healthcare 2025: Looking towards the future
Healthcare professionals globally are convinced that technology, such as personal health monitoring devices and video collaboration solutions, will play a vital role in creating a positive healthcare future. According to the survey, by 2025 primary care will be accessible to all citizens, regardless of distance thanks to the increased availability of broadband, mobile devices and applications.
“Incorporating technology like video into the delivery of healthcare services will be critical in creating a positive healthcare future globally. For instance, services such as virtual consultations and remote monitoring, mentioned in participant responses, can enable nations to make healthcare accessible to almost everyone. This will be vital in tackling many of the challenges that will impact the industry over the coming years,” said Emerson.
Additionally, 63% of respondents agreed that virtual healthcare services to homes will be a realistic scenario in 2025 due to technology advancements. These would include virtual outpatient services, as well as remote diagnosis for the elderly and physically disabled, amongst others.
“For healthcare providers, video-enabled care delivery makes strategic and financial sense. For patients, it puts management of their health back in their own control, reducing unnecessary travel time and expenditure. Likewise, for medical professionals, collaboration technology can provide opportunities in coordinated care delivery, peer consultations, and continuing medical education.”
Based on industry figures, there are less than 10 per cent of non-executive directors across APAC’s top 20 listed companies who have deep technological experience. When technology and telecommunication boards are excluded, this figure drops to less than five per cent. The report believes that the healthcare industry follows a similar pattern.
”To truly capitalize on the increasing technological advancement, including more devices for personal connectivity and with that an increase in data, it is vital to have leaders within healthcare establishments who will embrace and champion the use of technology for the provision of services and streamlining administration. This will help in ensuring that innovative solutions are properly embedded into workflows, as well as adopted by employees throughout the organisation and beyond,” said Emerson.
In addition, there is also a need for the industry to increase focus on preventive models of healthcare that reduce hospitalisation and treatment cost – it is definitely more efficient to move information than to move people. This means collaboration across the extended care team, as well as with the patient and family, is critical. However, this can’t be done effectively without underlying technology support.
He adds that as economies-of-scale are reached, the cost of healthcare, whether it is borne by the patient or the industry, will also be significantly reduced. “Ultimately, it is critical that the healthcare industry focuses on long-term benefits, rather than short-term costs, to ensure a positive healthcare future by 2025.”