What are some ways in which healthcare delivery is changing? This is a big question, with lots of big answers.
Idea Couture set out to offer some insight into this area in our new book, Futures of Health: Spaces + Places of Care. In the book, as with our foresight and health practices, a critical output of our synthesis process is the articulation of “big shifts.” Shifts are not trends or hot topics, but rather the tangible implications of trends.
Why should we care about shifts?
Identifying shifts is a necessary step in the foresight innovation process. These shifts can help us to frame new questions and establish future-oriented points of view about the types of changes taking place. Being able to orient ourselves toward the future allows us to define design principles or best practices with longevity and resilience in the face of uncertainty due to trends, new technology, policies, or regulations.
Here are 4 shifts that we are currently seeing in healthcare and should consider whenever developing new, (ideally) long-lasting business solutions.
1/ From bricks to clicks
The recent proliferation of patient-driven Do-it-Yourself health interventions calls into question the need for infrastructure. Today, patients visit the local hospital. In the future, the clinic may deliver acute ad hoc interventions to the patient in their homes or on their phones. Automated Telehealth already exists, shifting the space of healthcare delivery away from centralized locations to temporary and even placeless interactions. Health gadgets for self-monitoring, the smaller scale of medical equipment, and one-drop blood tests—with results conveniently delivered via smartphone app—will be sufficient to capture data and will drive down the costs of delivery.
2/ From fixed to mobile patient populations
Whether due to climate extremes, national, ethnic, or religious conflict, or simply because we are becoming less tied to notions of building stable homes and careers, people are increasingly on the move. Without access to institutional healthcare, these populations need on-demand, flexible healthcare options that account for logistical issues beyond the current capabilities of the Red Cross or MSF to deliver. The Amazons, Alibabas, and Ubers of the future will have international reach, having figured out how to deliver cost-effective healthcare to mobile populations in remote areas of the world. With the doctor coming to them, and to ensure some degree of care continuity, transient populations will need to control their own medical records. Perfect examples of patients in need of this include Syrian refugees or festival goers at Kumbh Mela.
3/ From doctor as sole care provider to multi-care teams
From doctor’s assistants and nurse practitioners to your local pharmacist, WebMD, and even your new Facebook friend who has the same condition as you, there is clear evidence that the places where patients seek healthcare advice and support is diversifying. Doctors are, to a degree, no longer needed for patients with acute conditions, diseases where treatment protocols are well developed and widely accepted, or the provision of simple medical services. With better management of intellectual and financial resources, and further diversification and training of uniquely skilled workers in healthcare systems, we could see the creation of new positions on care teams better suited to deliver on the unique needs of patients: health advocates to help patients make sense of medical information and navigate fragmented healthcare systems; care coordinators to provide orchestrated, individualized care to reduce unnecessary, costly treatments and procedures; ethics advisors to help patients distinguish between medical treatment and medical enhancement; or cultural translators to help establish trust between providers and consumers, and to increase the cultural sensitivity of those treating marginalized people and populations.
4/ From in(appropriate) hospital care to connected homecare
While best suited to deliver acute care in emergency situations, hospitals are often not the best places for elderly patients or those with chronic illnesses, as they can end up getting worse, rather than better, after extended admission. As we are living longer and because we usually deteriorate faster once removed from our familiar home environments, better homecare options are needed. Loneliness and lack of purpose in life have been shown to make symptoms worse, so these improved, connected homes would incorporate not only better lighting, clearly defined stairs, and easy-to-access handles and switches, but also be designed with an understanding of the psychological and emotional needs of patients. These smarthomes would therefore allow family and friends to check in to provide virtual as well as hands-on care. Home healthcare providers would know more about their patients based on frequent updates and feedback from home monitors and sensors, which would allow them to do more than just change bandages and provide medication reminders.
All in all, these shifts are confirming what we already know; technology is advancing to allow us to integrate healthcare into our lifestyles in a flexible and seamless way. While we are used to seeing the term “holistic healthcare,” the implications are still novel. Have we truly considered what it would be like to include health maintenance activities as part of our daily lives? Now, we take time away from work or our daily routines to go to doctor’s appointments; the realm of healthcare is outside of our daily lives. However, in the future, these errands will need to become less of an inconvenience and more easily embedded in our day-to-day. Flexibility has become—and will continue to be—invaluable.
As specialists within the healthcare arena, how are we designing solutions that allow for the full interfacing of life and health?