The ‘Covid-19: How it accelerated the future of healthcare’ report, released on 28 June 2022, was commissioned by Allianz from futurist Ray Hammond, who wrote the original World in 2040 report.
The new report investigated the acceleration of healthcare and medical trends outlined in the original World in 2040 report over the past three years, primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Allianz says that the report offers insights which are ‘important when it comes to ensuring that a health insurance proposition is fit for customer needs’.
“We’re delighted to launch ‘Covid-19: How it accelerated the Future of Healthcare’, a follow up to our ‘World In 2040’ Series. This report highlights the acceleration of innovation in healthcare, science and technology at a rate far beyond what was expected just three years ago,” said Paula Covey, Chief Marketing Officer Health at Allianz Partners.
Ray Hammond added: “As a result of Covid-19, the future has suddenly become a lot closer, particularly in terms of medical science and healthcare innovations. A lot of my predictions from 2019 have already come through, so this report, commissioned by Allianz Partners, is extremely timely. The cost of the pandemic on lives has been extremely detrimental, and we will be mourning lives lost for decades to come.
“There is, however, a very positive take away from this bleak time in our history – the transformations in science and healthcare. The research into heart attacks, killer diseases and other conditions will hopefully save many lives in the years to come.”
The acceleration of mRNA development
Allianz says that ‘the most significant development’ identified by the report is the accelerated development of genetic messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology, which came to prominence due to the collective efforts of the global scientific community to develop a Covid-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.
The first mRNA-based vaccines were rolled out during the pandemic, and by the end of 2021, more than eight billion mRNA-based vaccine doses had been administered – with more than 4.4 billion people having received one or more doses.
The technologies used to produce the Covid-19 mRNA vaccines are now being explored for use in the development of other treatments. The report identified a project by researchers from Yale School of Medicine which aims to develop a new vaccine for malaria, as well as another project by King’s College London to regenerate heart tissues damaged by cardiac arrests using RMA technology. Moderna has also begun a trial for a HIV vaccine, while clinical trials have been redesigned and sped up by the new developments ‘without incurring additional health risks for test participants’.
Consequently, Allianz explained: “The world now sits on the verge of several potentially significant breakthroughs, mostly thanks to the ongoing research into high-tech, gene-based vaccines, which could benefit patients with cancer, heart research and infectious diseases.
Remote healthcare services
In 2019, Hammond and Allianz predicted that healthcare would be delivered remotely ‘by 2040’ using digital technology. The technology to implement telehealth services were an emerging trend in 2019, however usage remained low – the original report stated that the burden on surgeries and hospitals would be substantially reduced if just ‘20 per cent of patients’ used the new remote healthcare services over the next decade.
Allianz reported that this process has now been ‘dramatically’ accelerated, with the use of telemedicine, virtual wards and health technology becoming ‘commonplace’ across the world, as healthcare providers attempted to continue treating patients without exposing them to Covid-19.
Driven by patients’ increased familiarity with telemedicine, as well as the sunk costs of developing and investing in the technologies, remote healthcare is expected to remain commonly used even post-pandemic.
Examples identified by the report include non-critical patients being treated at home using a ‘virtual ward’, which fits them with an array of on-body sensors such as finger-tip oximeters, pulse monitors, thermometers, and sensors for monitoring blood glucose, sleep patterns, respiration the heart’s electrical activity. In addition, patients with respiratory problems can use a ‘wireless stethoscope’ to allow doctors to listen to remotely listen to lung performance, while babies can wear ‘smart socks’ that keep track of their vital signs.
The adoption of health tech
In line with the accelerated rollout of telemedicine services, the new report also found that there has been an accelerated adoption of health-related technology.
While rudimentary health monitoring functionalities were available on some smart watches at the time of the 2019 report – which predicted that ‘soon, informed patients would be monitoring their blood pressure, blood glucose levels, potassium levels and other key health indicators with fashionable wearable devices, without the need for cumbersome equipment or invasive blood testing’ – the pandemic has accelerated this development ‘considerably’.
Allianz said that: “Today, health technology goes well beyond the traditional smart watch, with devices offering consumers and medics virtual snapshots of a patient’s vital signs. As the virtual ward develops and more patients are treated at home, other sensors and monitors are now providing additional information about the health and wellbeing of the patients to medics. These wireless sensors include mats which can detect changes in a patient’s gait, cameras for patient observation, motion sensors, electric plug and switch sensors, door sensors, humidity sensors and ambient temperature sensors.”
The new report predicts that in the near future, the monitoring of patients on virtual wards which has been introduced over the past two years will become less time-consuming as artificial intelligence (AI) takes an increasingly prominent role in the 24-hour monitoring of patients.