There are three megatrends which will affect the entire healthcare system in the near future: an increasing and aging population, lack of medical staff as well as a rising dependency on new technologies
The world around us is changing. Peoples’ needs are changing, and in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty: Can the medical sector and accompanying technology companies
meet these growing challenges? What will be the impact on risk management in the healthcare system?
There are three megatrends which will affect the entire healthcare system in the near future: an increasing and aging population, lack of medical staff as well as a rising dependency on new technologies.
In 1950, the earth’s population was
2.5 billion people, in 2019 it had grown to 7.7 billion. According to United Nations projections, our pop- ulation will count about 10 billion people by 2060. Besides population growth, aging presents another challenge. Data published by the European Union shows that 65-year- old and older people will account for 28.5% of all EU citizens in 2050. In other words, every third European will be a senior citizen.
This also means that the current healthcare system will not be able to meet the expectations and demands of its patients. As the life expectancy of Europeans increases, the period in which they might become chronically ill and require intensive medical care will increase as well. Amongst the younger generation new diseases are emerging, including those related to civilisation. Added to that, the number of skilled medical staff is decreasing (already a third of them are considering a resignation), and so is the number of hospital beds. According to some of forecasts, Europe will be faced with a shortage of over 4 million medical staff members by 2030.
Notwithstanding that, the pandemic has revolutionised the healthcare industry in a rather positive way. It is difficult to imagine another business sector that had to adapt to the crisis in such a short time, implement new client servicing models and increase the use of technology.
At the beginning of 2020, the worldwide healthcare industry had to grapple with a supply chain crisis as well. The demand for personal protection equipment spiked within weeks and it took a few months until suppliers could again meet this demand. At the same time, hospitals and doctors were so engaged with the care of Covid patients that unfortunately other health disorders were neglected. This gave impetus to the development of telemedicine which, until 2019, was tucked away in a niche market.
Upsurge of new technologies
Telemedicine comes with numerous advantages. Most of all it offers a wider spectrum of services, it is easy to make an appointment, and it is time-efficient for the medical doctor. The implementation of electronic prescriptions was a milestone in many EU countries.
Telemedicine also comes with the challenge of risking errors and omissions. Shorter appointment times and not being able to see the patient in person may in some cases lead to a misdiagnosis. And while telemedicine may be convenient for most people, those who are tech-reluctant could be excluded or prevented from the online accessibility to medical services.
The use of new technologies in medical services is becoming more common year after year. For example, the use of pulse oximeters has supported the treatment of watches and remote stethoscopes are already great helpers and may speed up patient diagnosis.
Typically, such opportunities are accompanied by threats. While the development of technology, the use of Internet of Things (IoT) in medical services and artificial intelligence can support doctors with a preliminary patient diagnosis, and boost their efficiency, there are also risks. Human lives depend on the technology used. It must therefore be fully reliable and medical staff must be well trained and comfort- able in using it. Just think of the Da Vinci surgical robot: It draws a very thin line between product liability and the professional liability of medical entities using it.
Emergence of new risks
The increased use of technology over the past few years has resulted in a greater exposure to cyber risks. In 2020 and 2021, many examples revealed the vulnerability of software, making it an easy target for cyber criminals. Hospitals, although a critical infrastructure, are often underfunded when it comes to cyber security. Hence, cyber-attacks, using ransomware to encrypt software and extort money from victims are a real danger to hospitals. According to Check Point data2, the number of attacks against healthcare entities has increased by 45% globally since November 2020. Central Europe has been the most affected with a 145% increase. Eastern Europe is not far behind with a 97% increase. Criminals are looking for fast and easy money. Healthcare unfortunately is an easy target for them.
Medical documentation is nowadays purely digital. The mere fact that this involves sensible data should improve data security. Nonetheless, data breaches, exposing such sensitive data, are very valuable to cyber criminals. According to Tenable data published in January 20213, healthcare entities are the most exposed industry. Data breaches were the cause in 24.5% of all cases, resulting in over 22 billion records exposed. The shared use of technology creates new access points which cyber criminals may use to harm any apparatus connected to internet. In healthcare, this creates some very scary scenarios.
The current situation, combined with existing and new megatrends, poses a huge challenge for all those involved in and responsible for risk management in the healthcare industry. Even though new technologies greatly support the industry, they come with new risks that must be managed. We are also faced with an increasing number of people needing medical services and a decreasing number of medical staff able to provide these services to them. The widespread digitisation in the market, coupled with process automation will require new types of risk specialists. Specialists who are experts in defining, predicting and transferring these risks – just in case, when the worst case scenarios do occur.
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