What will the future of health and healthcare look like? In a series of blog posts by the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Foresight and Health teams, a number of leading voices will present their own visions for the future. Contributions are linked to the Scenarios for Sustainable Health Systems project, the Workplace Wellness Alliance and the Healthy Living Initiative. In the following post, Daljit Singh, President of Fortis Healthcare, shares his perspective on the future of health.

In a post-recession world, we are still grappling with gloomy economic outlooks and increased scrutiny of public spending. Healthcare is equally, if not more, afflicted by these times of purse tightening.

Consider these sobering realities: In developed nations, healthcare costs have grown 2% faster than GDP for 40 years, an alarming trend which would lead most countries to spend more than 20% of GDP by 2050. Emerging countries like India are also at risk of replicating this dynamic as they design and scale up their health systems.

Healthcare is therefore witnessing a tipping point due to the consistently sharp escalation in costs, which has put sustainability of entire healthcare delivery systems in question. The situation is alarming enough for Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton, to exclaim (in the US context): “Healthcare is killing us. Healthcare costs could destroy the economy.”

The increasing interconnectedness of the world exposes vulnerabilities and gives the issue global proportions. It is therefore no longer a question of a looming crisis. Rather, we’re already neck deep in it.

Clearly the time for complacency is over. Unless new solutions are thought of, it would not be unlike Don Quixote fighting windmills. There are stark choices facing leadership both at the societal and national level. If no action is taken, countries will be faced with intolerable public deficits and be forced to make immediate decisions that will destroy long-term value. Instead, by engaging with a variety of stakeholders and taking bold steps, countries have an opportunity to develop a long-term vision and invest to create financially sustainable systems for the future.

Some steps that may hold the key to transformation are:

  • Reinvent healthcare delivery models with a focus on affordability: Develop innovative low-cost, capital-light, agile business models that are designed to meet specific needs and able to provide services at affordable prices.
  • Empower patients to create value-conscious consumers: In many countries, patients are often insulated from the economic impact of their decisions. Populations should be empowered with the right information so that they can prioritize cost-effective care.
  • Promote technology as the driver of innovation, efficiency and transparency: Technology can play a major role in improving transparency and reach of healthcare services, and enhancing the affordability and usage of medical devices. Additionally, this is an opportunity for healthcare to ride on the digital revolution and leverage it to boost the productivity of clinicians and reduce the need of interventions.
  • Nip non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the bud: NCDs are putting tremendous pressure on health systems in terms of avoidable costs and lost productivity. Nations require a vigorous and active programme of containing and mitigating NCDs by way of prevention (at the individual level) through healthy diets and physical activity; regulations (by governments) through disincentives; advocacy (by NGOs) through public awareness campaigns; changing habits (by academia) through parenting, school education and at the workplace; facilitation (by information technology and medical equipment firms) through technology enablement and sharing information.

This is a moment for leadership at the country level to display conviction and resolve in charting out new pathways to sustainable healthcare. Unless significant steps are taken now, the proverbial quicksand will get up to the neck, with no rope to follow.

Author: Daljit Singh is President of Fortis Healthcare, India.

Image: A blood-pressure machine is seen inside a basket with other medical devices REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis