2013 did not begin well for the UK’s National Health Service.
Published in early February, the Francis report delivered a detailed and damning indictment of failures in patient care and hospital management at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust that led to between 400 and 1,200 deaths between 2005 and 2009.
As report author Robert Francis wrote to the Secretary of State for Health:
“Building on the report of the first inquiry, the story it tells is first and foremost of appalling suffering of many patients. This was primarily caused by a serious failure on the part of a provider Trust Board. It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the Trust’s attention.” 1
Even reputational damage on this scale does not change the fact that people value their healthcare services and can be vociferous in their defence – whether those services are funded through the public sector as in the UK or through the variety of public and private insurance programmes favoured by other countries.
Indeed, the threat to healthcare spending resulting from the economic and eurozone crises triggered violence in Greece and Spain in 2012 whilst healthcare reforms proved to be the most divisive issue in the US presidential election2.
Despite this troubled backdrop, it is likely that spending on healthcare will rise through 2013.
Extending healthcare to a wider part of the population remains a social and political priority for many developing countries whilst the ageing populations of Europe and Japan will necessarily drive the cost of healthcare upwards.
With that in mind, The Economist sees year-on-year growth of 4.8% across the 60 countries it selected for a global forecast with global pharmaceutical spending rising by a forecast 5.4%2.
One of the other most noticeable developments within healthcare over 2013 may be an increasing reliance on technology to improve patient access and help control costs.
ZDNet Health3 points to 5 possible manifestations of this phenomenon:
- The growth and spread of electronic health records through healthcare practices of every size.
- An increasing use of tablet computers for healthcare applications.
- 3. The spread of the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) trend into the healthcare arena.
- 4. An increase in malware threats and security breaches – and a corresponding need for more robust defences of IT infrastructures within healthcare organisations.
- 5. The deployment of app-enabled devices based on smartphone technology for specific healthcare functions. Examples might include e.g. health monitors or blood pressure cuffs.
If shrinking funds and relentlessly rising demand are the ailments afflicting healthcare in developed economies, technology could well prove to be an important part of the cure.