Great expectations for 2017

  • Posted on 11.01.2017

Great expectations for 2017


Gary Finnegan

Health Journalist


As ‘thinking season’ kicks off, the focus is on how technology and big data can deliver better value healthcare to more people than ever before.

January is a time for reflection, planning and predicting what lies ahead. It’s the season for assessing the mega-trends that will shape our future and working out how we will respond.

Perhaps the most prestigious venue for future-gazing is Davos where world leaders from politics and business gather on 17-20 January for the World Economic Forum. Here, global influencers will look at how prevailing economic, social and political forces present challenges and opportunities for all of us.

Last year, the key phrase from Davos was the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’. The WEF set the tone for thousands of conversations on the topic last year, including at the MedTech Forum in Brussels last December.

This year – with the convergence of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological systems still very much in view – the theme will be Responsive and Responsible Leadership.

But what can healthcare leaders expect from 2017?

When it comes to healthcare, the WEF frames the conversation with some key demographic statistics:

–          By 2050, the world’s population will have risen to 9.7 billion

–          2 billion people will be over the age of 60

To continue to meet the (growing) demands of healthcare consumers without blowing up healthcare budgets, new ways of delivery services will be required. Smarter, more efficient, technologies and systems will be essential.

This brings us to the concept at the heart of many new-year health policy forecasts: value.

Value-based healthcare has been something of a buzzword since it was coined by Harvard’s Michael Porter. Most of us have an intuitive sense of value. In healthcare, Porter describes it as ‘health outcomes achieved per dollar spent’. (He later refined this to ‘the health outcomes that matter to patients relative to the cost of achieving those outcomes’.)

The WEF is on board with this idea. Its Value in Healthcare project is one of several initiatives designed to give real momentum to Porter’s theory. They want to see governments, health authorities, healthcare providers and companies sharing best practice examples of value-based healthcare.

But how do you we know when we are getting value? The key is to measure outcomes. Only then will we be able to make comparisons and figure out what works best.

For a long time, this kind of transparency was sorely lacking in healthcare. Neither surgeons nor health ministers were enthusiastic about publishing outcomes data that exposed those delivering the best ‘bang for their buck’.

This is changing – fast. Health Ministers from OECD countries meet in Paris on 17 January where the agenda will include a new report on Tackling Wasteful Spending on Health.

Among the eye-catching findings are that more than 10% of hospital expenditure goes to correcting preventable medical mistakes or infections that people catch in hospitals, and that a third of OECD citizens consider the health sector to be corrupt.

The report makes for sobering reading but reaches a positive conclusion: governments could spend less on healthcare and still improve patients’ health. It is packed with specific ideas on how to improve surgical outcomes or diabetes management while saving money.

One of the expected conclusions from the Paris meeting of health ministers is for a regularly-updated league table based on official health statistics. This would mirror the OECD’s Pisa rankings which rate the performance of education systems. It promises to go deeper than the OECD’s Health at a Glancereportand could be a real game-changer in the drive for value-based healthcare.

And if you doubt whether they are serious, consider this:

–          The title of the plenary session for the ministers’ meeting is Releasing Health System Resources for Better Value Care: Tackling Ineffective Health Spending and Waste

–          The keynote speaker for an OECD policy forum on 16 January will feature a keynote speech from none other than Professor Michael Porter.

Value-based healthcare is the only show in town in 2017 – and for the foreseeable future.

(One to watch: publication of the European Health Consumer Index on 30 January – expect strong progress in eHealth to push some countries up the league table. See 2015 report to whet your appetite)

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