Megatrends in health care as economy shifts


robot touching futuristic interface

Disruption from sources like automation, digital interconnectivity and the peer economy are set to shake up the health sector as they are other sectors, says Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist from the CSIRO, yet it will be the human factor which determines the success of businesses.

Dr Hajkowicz presented at the ninth National Medicines Symposium on several of the megatrends reshaping our world over the coming 20 years, with an emphasis on the importance of innovation and using existing resources more efficiently.

Megatrends build up slowly but eventually express themselves with significant force, changing the world quickly, he told the conference.

He gave the example of former photography giant Eastman Kodak, which began to notice some changes in the photography sector in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“They were experiencing a megatrend which in the beginning didn’t feel like too much, but when it hit them they filed for bankruptcy in 2011.”

The company had been performing strongly until then, delivering year on year profits.

“This phenomenon of digital technology was growing up. Once we had phones that could take an image and disseminate that broadly and widely and upload it onto internet sites, their business model of traditional print film and cameras was very much gone, and then they weren’t able to make an adjustment in the world of digital technology.”

The same sort of thing is happening with health care in Australia, he says.

It’s forecast that anywhere between 44% and 55% of all jobs that are performed today will be done by a robot or a computer in the next 15 years.

“What happened in factories with robotics is about to find its way into the banking and finance sector and for a lot of transaction work, the retail sector.”

Doctors and nurses will be largely immune to this disruption, he says, because of the complex nature of their work and its emphasis on human interaction. Jobs that can be easily automated are likely to go.

“Robots are getting better at what they do and they do it quickly.”

Human champions can no longer beat computers at chess; automated vehicles “can drive better than you already” (which will have an impact on emergency services as motor vehicle accidents decline). Digital connectivity is set to change the economy in wide-sweeping ways.

“You don’t have to go to a shop in the future to buy food or groceries, you don’t have to go to in an office to work, you go because it delivers on the experience factor; the offices and shops of the future will be more like showrooms where we learn about products and interact.”

Dr Hajkowicz also identified rising chronic disease, the ageing population and related health sector challenges as some of the key health trends to impact upon our world in the coming years.

From an Australian perspective, he also highlighted competition from growing economies such as India and China as they move towards an advanced services sector economy, while at the same time demand for our minerals reduces after infrastructure is built.

He singled out antimicrobial resistance as another key issue.

“Plus the pipeline for new antibiotics is drying up. It doesn’t hold the same financial returns as a lot of the lifestyle and nutraceutical products that the pharmaceutical companies will turn towards, because they are taken for a longer period of time and have fewer barriers to market entry compared to an antibiotic.”

We have also “wrung the cloth dry” in terms of the scientific technology to make a new antibiotic, he says.

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