The future of health care is not in hospitals

By Gihan Perera*
Monday, 10 February, 2020

The future of health care is not in hospitals

Patients don’t care about hospitals; they care about their health. In the past, the hospital experience was a significant part of health care, but that won’t necessarily be true in the future. If you’re a hospital leader, look beyond your four walls and consider the entire patient journey, because that’s the only way to stay ahead of the game and avoid disruption.

With our ageing population, exponential technology advances and the increase in chronic diseases, the healthcare sector will play an ever-increasing role in our lives. Deloitte predicts healthcare spending worldwide will explode to $14 trillion (that’s trillion, with a ‘t’) by 2022.

But this growth won’t be distributed evenly and there will be winners and losers. Hospitals in particular are vulnerable because many of the services they provide will occur elsewhere. If hospitals keep making incremental changes, they will be vulnerable to disruption from elsewhere.

To protect from disruption, the hospital sector must take a broader perspective. In particular, it is important to consider how patients will engage with the healthcare system in the future.

Map the future patient journey

No-one knows exactly how people will behave in the future, but it is possible to get a good idea by mapping patients’ typical journeys through the healthcare system. For example, consider a common situation that hospitals face: a patient suffering a heart attack who requires emergency care. Let’s imagine how this patient’s journey might look in the near future.

His wearable device (such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit) is constantly collecting data and checking for specific patterns that might indicate an imminent heart attack. We don’t yet have this technology, but Johnson & Johnson and Apple have just announced a large-scale joint research study to assess how the Apple Watch can be used for early atrial fibrillation detection.

When the device detects a problem — and before the patient himself is aware of it — it alerts him. For less serious incidents, the patient can treat himself at home immediately or book an appointment to see his GP.

For more serious issues, the device will automatically notify the ambulance network, and a self-driving ambulance will be dispatched to collect him. Initially, the ambulance needs to share the road with human drivers, but eventually all vehicles will be self-driving and will automatically adjust to let the emergency vehicle through.

The ambulance chooses the best hospital, optimising its choice based on the patient’s preferences and their insurance cover, traffic, hospital capacity and availability of specialists. Meanwhile, the patient’s smart device is still transmitting data to AI software, which makes an initial diagnosis for the cardiologist, so she’s ready when the patient arrives on her doorstep.

It’s a significant change that this diagnosis is based on data analysis rather than clinical analysis. As healthtech investor Vinod Khosla said (controversially but accurately) in 2013, “In the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together.”

On the way to the hospital, a 3D printer in the ambulance prints a stent for the operation, customised for this patient and specific procedure. AI also determines what other supplies and stock are required: an autonomous drone delivers them so the hospital doesn’t have to store and manage inventory.

Consider each touchpoint on the journey

This is a hypothetical scenario because we don’t have all this technology yet, and it’s not connected in this way. But it’s not so far away — and possibly closer than you think.

More importantly, this scenario highlights the importance of understanding the patient journey. Our hypothetical patient has already had many touchpoints in his healthcare journey, and hasn’t even seen a hospital yet!

*Gihan Perera is a business futurist, speaker and author who works with business leaders to help them lead and succeed in an uncertain but exciting future. He is the author of 'Disruption By Design: Leading the change in a fast-changing world'. Visit

Image credit: ©

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