A longer-living population, the emergence of transformative technologies with applications across the healthcare spectrum, and continued global economic uncertainty. These are the key societal drivers that will impact healthcare in 2024.
Their convergence means we are heading into uncharted waters. On the technology side, artificial intelligence (AI) promises to dramatically change everything from the way we develop medicine and treat patients to the business and commercial side of healthcare. Its emergence is the driving force behind many of the trends outlined below.
And just as powerful will be the changes that are being made to shift the focus from reactive to preventive care in the hope of preventing an aging population from becoming an overwhelming burden on healthcare systems around the world.
With these factors in mind, here's my overview of what I believe will be the most prominent trends in 2024.
Generative AI In Healthcare
AI will be instrumental in many of the trends here, but generative AI, in particular, will be particularly impactful over the next 12 months. It will democratize access to other transformative AI applications, making it easier to implement and interpret results and generate personalized recommendations. It will create synthetic data that can be used to train medical AI algorithms without compromising patient privacy or where there simply isn't enough relevant real-world data. And it can create chatbots and virtual assistants to help at every stage of the patient journey. The applications of generative AI in healthcare are practically limitless, and we'll certainly be returning to it as we discuss the other trends on this list.
At a high level, this term refers to the creation of tailored treatment plans for individual patients. In practice, this is increasingly being done with technology and data. The most advanced applications are in genomics, where AI is being used to analyze patients' DNA to diagnose and treat diseases and to create medicines that are personalized to specific people down to the molecular level (sometimes called precision medicine). Many researchers believe that a personalized approach to healthcare leads to better patient outcomes and more efficient use of medical resources and will play an increasingly important role in addressing the healthcare challenges of the future.
Virtual Healthcare Assistants
Virtual assistants and chatbots can help clinicians by providing advice on treatments, diagnoses, and medications. They can also help patients by answering questions about their care and connecting them with the information they need to make more informed decisions about their own care. Increasingly, they will interface with electronic health record systems and be used to book and schedule appointments. They can also help patients stay compliant by reminding them to take medications or exercise. They can even provide companionship for patients who live alone or in remote areas to improve their mental health!
A digital twin is a virtual model of a real-world system, object, place, tool, or process. It can be used to simulate anything from a single device, such as a needle, to understand how it works in different conditions to an entire hospital to understand how services are delivered. Digital twins of the human body and individual organs have been developed to model the effects of changes in treatment, medication and lifestyle choices. Perhaps the most complex digital twin currently imaginable is a twin of the human brain, which researchers hope to advance by 2024.
IoT-Powered Virtual Hospitals And Telemedicine 2.0
This trend includes both telemedicine and wearable devices connected to the global network known as the Internet of Things (IoT). By using connected devices to remotely monitor patients and provide communication channels for healthcare professionals, more elements of care can be delivered remotely. We call this "telemedicine 2.0" because it goes beyond the simple delivery of remote care, such as remote consultations, to a holistic approach to remote patient care and treatment. Virtual hospital wards are an example of this trend in action in 2024 - where a central location acts as a hub for monitoring multiple patients in their own homes.
This covers many topics, including exercise, wellness, and immunizations, but it all boils down to the old adage that prevention is better than cure. This shift from reactive to proactive approaches will be a strategic priority for healthcare providers in 2024. Research has shown that it can create long-term benefits for patients, as well as reduce the costs associated with treating preventable conditions. Technological advances, including AI and wearable technology, will also play a major role here, enabling early warning and rapid intervention.
Virtual And Augmented Reality In Healthcare
The use of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare is beginning to take off, with several innovative use cases now entering the mainstream. In particular, it has been shown to be effective in helping patients manage long-term chronic pain. It has been shown to be more effective and cause fewer side effects than traditional pharmaceutical pain management, leading to improved quality of life for patients and reduced hospital stays. Meanwhile, augmented reality (AR) is increasingly being used by surgeons to provide digital information as they work without the need to look at separate screens. Another application is wound care management, where it enables non-invasive assessment of the severity, healing status, and best treatment options for a patient's wound.
8 Elderly Care
Many developed nations have aging populations, which will inevitably put increasing pressure on healthcare systems as people live longer and require more support in later life. Innovative solutions that enable the elderly to remain in their own homes for longer, rather than taking up space in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes, will come to the fore. There will also be an increased focus on developing new treatments for diseases that occur specifically in old age and put a strain on care systems such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Other trends discussed here, including preventative care, virtual hospitals and healthcare assistants, will also have important implications.
3D Printing - From Implements To Organs
Additive manufacturing - where products are constructed using processes such as 3D printing - has a major impact on healthcare. In parts of the world where medical equipment is hard to come by, it can be used to print tools and devices on demand, including surgical instruments, orthopedic or dental implants, and prosthetics. Research is also underway into the viability of 3D-printed organs for transplant using biological tissue taken from the patient's body. If proven effective, this could provide a solution to the chronic shortage of organs available for transplant and dramatically reduce the cost of these procedures.
Convergence Of Mental and Physical Healthcare Delivery
For most of the history of medicine, mental and physical health care have been relatively siloed. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that, as providers increasingly recognize the intrinsic links between physical and mental well-being and the need for a holistic approach. Examples of this in action in 2024 will include frontline healthcare providers, such as primary care physicians, increasingly screening for ways in which mental health issues may impact the treatment and recovery of physical ailments.