One year later: the state of healthcare and key projections for the role of clinicians
6 April 2023
By Jan Herzhoff, PhD
For International Health Day and the one-year anniversary of the Clinician of the Future report, we look at the past year in healthcare and key trends on the horizon.
It’s been a year since we released the findings of our large-scale global study focused on the future trends in healthcare from the perspective of doctors and nurses around the world. Their responses revealed the challenges they face and how we can work together to address gaps and identify solutions.
The Clinician of the Future Report came on the heels of the height the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to identifying pain points for healthcare workers before Covid-19, the report measured the enormous strain put on healthcare workers globally as a result of the pandemic.
As we usher in a post-pandemic era, it becomes apparent just how important it is for companies like Elsevier to stay abreast of the needs of healthcare workers. Looking back at the past three years, it becomes even more apparent how important reports like Clinician of the Future are to directly engage doctors and nurses around the world. So in the year since we launched our report, what’s changed? What’s the same? What’s on the horizon, and what new concerns have emerged for nurses and doctors?
Our global health survey engaged nearly 3,000 clinicians from 111 countries to gauge their perspectives on a variety of topics. When analyzing respondent data, three major themes emerged:
Enhancing health technology skills is a must: Clinicians predicted that over the next 10 years, “technology literacy” will become their most valuable capability, while 56% believe that clinical support tools utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) will help inform the majority of their decisions in the future. Another 67% think real-time patient analytics will be key to more personalized care.
A greater focus is needed on the patient-provider relationship: Clinicians predicted a blended approach to healthcare, with 63% saying most consultations between clinicians and patients will be remote and 49% saying most healthcare will be provided in a patient’s home instead of in a clinical setting.
An expanded healthcare workforce is a top priority: Clinicians were concerned about a global healthcare workforce shortage, with 74% predicting a shortage of nurses and 68% predicting a shortage of doctors in 10 years’ time.
One year later, these themes are still front and center. To see where we stand now, we looked to another recent report published by the World Economic Forum in January: Global Health & Healthcare Strategic Outlook 2023(opens in new tab/window). In this report, similar themes to Clinician of the Future are examined, most notably workforce shortage. Citing figures from the World Health Organization(opens in new tab/window), the WEF estimates there could be shortage of 10 million healthcare workers worldwide by 2030 — as patient needs continue to rise around the world.
As clinician burnout continues to take a toll, nurses and doctors are leaving the field, and finding trained clinicians to replace them at a fast enough pace is a struggle — one that affects patient care and outcomes. Clinician of the Future respondents were overwhelmingly vocal about clinician burnout and the need to prioritize growing the number of clinicians globally over the next decade.
As digital technologies take a hold and become more a part of the healthcare equation, we can expect them to change the treatment landscape. Clinician of the Future indicated that technology literacy will become the top skill needed to succeed in the clinical setting over the next 10 years. That’s a profound message. The WEF report found that in 2021 alone, the amount of money spent on enhancing digital technologies in health nearly doubled to $57 billion. As companies invest more money in their technology stack, AI is expected to take up a large portion of that. Of specific interest to healthcare providers beyond the ability to analyze large data sets, which can aid in speeding up diagnoses, is that AI can augment the work of staff by automating repetitive tasks that take up valuable clinician time.
Tim Morris(opens in new tab/window), SVP of Clinical Solutions for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Elsevier, thinks the increase in technology investment is a good sign. He believes new technologies are truly beneficial for clinicians, especially when it comes to training and guidance:
I believe that technology, when applied properly in healthcare settings, can help the clinician. Think about how nurses traditionally benefit from on-the-job training, being guided by a senior nurse during that training. Technology can act by giving the advice — by playing the role of the senior nurse in their absence.
Tim also expanded on how ensuring the best patient care requires the best technology, especially as we look at the number of respondents in Clinician of the Future who see patient care moving to the home:
We often hear about virtual hospitals — care being managed at home — which is the best place for patients to be. We need to provide tools to nurses so they are assisted in clinical decision-making. We need to empower nurses so they can give the right care. Technology helps us achieve that.
Elsevier Health is already leading in this space. From educating and training nursing students to help them develop clinical reasoning skills with Shadow Health(opens in new tab/window), to helping medical students build an inclusive perspective throughout their education journey with Complete Anatomy(opens in new tab/window), to helping better prepare future clinicians, patients and caretakers on diseases through Osmosis, Elsevier technology platforms and channels are making a difference. We are also supporting clinicians with ClinicalPath and ClinicalKey, which provide evidence-based clinical information to healthcare providers around the world, enhancing care for patients.
Put simply, we are continuing to make advancements on the technology front, but there is still so much more to do.
It’s clear that the issues affecting global health are a common thread among healthcare professionals everywhere. If we look to the horizon, technology remains a frontline topic of focus, with center stage going to artificial intelligence in supporting clinicians at the point-of-care and mixed-reality applications for staff learning and development. We’ve seen that just in the last couple of months with the advent and burst of Open AI’s ChatGPT onto the global scene. Other generative AI tools from companies like Google, Meta and others are primed to help process languages, design models, even predict protein structures. AI has been around for years, but the advancements currently taking place are unprecedented. We are seeing rapid progression in AI that will impact all industries including healthcare. The potential is great, and companies of all shapes and sizes are prioritizing AI, including Elsevier.
Concerns around AI
The advancement of AI does not, however, come without concern. Addressing those concerns, Dr Tate Erlinger, our VP of Clinical Analytics, equates forms of AI to this generation’s internet:
Artificial intelligence can be harnessed for many benefits, but also comes with potential risks depending on what type of AI is being used and for what purpose. Some concerns we have around AI technologies are similar to the concerns we had around the internet in terms of patients accessing new sources of medical information. For example, large language model AI has emerged on the scene recently, which may or may not display accurate medical information in response to a query. There is some concern in the medical community about inaccurate information being propagated, but on the flip side, in theory, if the information is accurate and used to facilitate conversations with healthcare providers it could lead to a more informed patient, which can increase participation and understanding around medical decision making.
Now we are in the midst of another technological evolution with respect to AI. There is certainly hope with AI technology that it can have a positive impact in the clinical setting, either by improving operational efficiencies and improving patient experience or by improving patient outcomes. But when it comes to the latter, we need to be careful about unintended negative consequences and understanding the role of clinical expertise in each use of AI.
To expand further on AI being the latest technological evolution, that is certainly true — with an emphasis on “latest.” We can safely say there will be many more technological advancements in the future, and each will come with uncertainty, questions and a learning curve. I think we will find that if we embrace these advancements with patience, caution and a positive mindset, they can lead to great innovations in the health space. Reports like Clinician of the Future can help to better inform us, to gauge the sentiments from the different populations, and to know where to focus our energy.
In speaking with our customers and learning about their concerns, we believe that this report is an important step to identifying the core issues facing clinicians, getting their insights into where they think the industry is headed and ultimately what needs to be done to improve their experience and patient outcomes. It helps us better understand the changing healthcare landscape and sets up for future conversations and insights.
In the coming months, we will delve deeper into the themes that emerged in the Clinician of the Future report by engaging the clinician population further and looking into the needs and concerns of other stakeholders in the healthcare landscape.
We are currently working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), professional societies, clinician groups and educational institutions to find solutions that address the challenges and changes across the healthcare ecosystem. I’m looking forward to the next phase of our Clinician of the Future report, how the journey will reveal future insights and challenges alike, and how we at Elsevier Health can further impact patients and providers for a healthier and more equitable society.