The second post in our Future of Work series predicts the themes and trends that will define the healthcare workforce of tomorrow.
Global healthcare stands at a fork in the road. Straight ahead is the well-trodden path, a continuation of the way things work now. That way leads to disaster, with a shrinking, shackled workforce unable to meet the exploding demands of an expanding and ageing global population.
The other path has its perils, from embracing automation to remodelling regulation to committing enormous resources to fund a thriving workforce. But for health professionals, healthcare organisations and the rest of us, the price of not going down this road is far higher.
No other sector better exemplifies the positive possibilities of task automation. The internet of all things is sweeping through the industry, enabling health self-monitoring in consumers, machine-led triage in hospitals and even remote monitoring in chronic disease care. Rather than threaten livelihoods, this wave of automation is liberating workers, boosting productivity and stimulating new jobs.
When patient monitoring and analysis work can be automated with greater accuracy and efficiency, clinicians and other skilled health workers are free to make more complex decisions and treat more patients. At the other end of the pay scale, ageing global populations have given rise to a booming economy in low-skilled direct care roles, which look robot-proof in the coming years.
According to Accenture, the healthcare workforce of the future of a liquid one, with contingent workers to the fore. Digital connectivity means clinicians no longer need to be in the room to treat patients, while the growing gap between healthcare supply and demand means they can’t always be either.
These factors will create more open marketplaces for healthcare talent across the board. Under current regulatory structures, the liquid workforce in healthcare is largely back office and administrative. However, if regulation evolves to suit the coming virtual care model, we will see more and more areas of specialist care delivery embracing remote, freelance and contract working.
We are moving into an era of enhanced global connectivity with the potential to sustainably expand and improve healthcare practice worldwide.
Before long, virtual healthcare will be the new norm, enabled by seamless and secure digital connectivity. Healthcare organisations will be truly networked, with internal social channels improving knowledge sharing, collaboration and patient outcomes. At the same time, patient-clinician connectivity will free workers from geographical constraints, so their skills can be applied anywhere within their regulatory jurisdiction.
Healthcare is a mature globalised economy. Talent flows across borders and has done for many years. But as the virtual care model becomes a reality, we will see a profound shift in what globalised healthcare means.
We will move beyond the global transfer of skills to a system of global collaborative healthcare. Clinicians will be able to draw on a vast range of international resources – skills, tools, tech and investment – to deliver comprehensive local solutions, anywhere in the world.
This will address some of the key supply and demand issues within the global workforce. For the first time, it will be possible for sustained quality care to reach even the most remote regions. Meanwhile workers will be able to provide care where it’s needed most, not just where they happen to work.
Continuity of skills
Healthcare is one of the world’s booming talent economies, set to supply many millions of new high- and low-skilled jobs in the coming decades.
The big question is whether those roles can be filled. Current projections are pessimistic. Recent studies predict a global talent shortage somewhere between 12.9 million by 2035 and 15 million by 2030.
Virtual care will carry some of the load, but there is still a pressing need to “rethink and improve how we teach, train, deploy and pay health workers so their impact can widen”, according to the WHO’s Dr Marie-Paule Kieny.
A key part of this mission will be to balance the global distribution of health workers. A 2013 WHO report revealed that 83 countries still fall below the 23 skilled health professionals per 10,000 people needed to provide the most basic health coverage.
As so often, education is the answer and education costs the barrier. Technology can only do so much. Governments, educators and business must work together with greater urgency to create the human solution and build the health workforce our future demands.
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