World Health Day – contributions and challenges of digital technologies

Medicine doctor team meeting and analysis
Sheila Zabeu -

April 07, 2023

On 7 April 2023, the WHO will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the declaration of World Health Day. According to the organisation, there are many advances to celebrate that improve people’s quality of life over the past seven decades, but it is also an opportunity to motivate action to address the health challenges of today and the future.

These issues were addressed by the World Economic Forum’s recent Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook report, which sets out a vision for global health and healthcare up to 2035.

In particular, the World Economic Forum highlights health-focused digital technologies with the potential to make positive changes, such as new treatments, better diagnostics and earlier prevention. In addition, technological innovations can help reduce spending and increase overall efficiency. For example, England’s National Health Service (NHS) reports that telemedicine – addressing remote diagnosis and treatment using telecommunication solutions – can help reduce the burden of patient care by 25%.

However, the report warns that a comprehensive short, medium and long-term action plan needs to be developed to amplify access to healthcare and the outcomes delivered by digital technology. Investments in innovation, optimization of supply chains and treatment in general also need to be encouraged.

The use of data and applications should be harmonized across the global health sector, making systems and tools interoperable, the report says. And medical entities should work together with policymakers to develop a regulatory framework that promotes innovation in all parts of the healthcare system.

Multi-sector partnerships, for example between developer companies, civil society and philanthropic entities, can help to rapidly deploy digital solutions at scale. The study cites the example of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Ghana Health Service partnering with the Sormas Foundation’s open source mobile digital health platform to manage Covid-19 during the pandemic.

Thinking more broadly, wearable devices (wearables), apps, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, telemedicine and predictive medicines, among other digital technologies, can help healthcare globally.

To accelerate the digital health journey

During Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2023, held recently in Barcelona, Spain, Huawei held a roundtable discussion in which it presented four digital health transformation scenarios the company is working on, driven by technologies, such as 5G, IoT, AI, and cloud computing. They are:

  • All-optical medical imaging for 3D visualization – Huawei’s solution can upload thousands of images in seconds and reconstruct a 3D image with 4K definition, providing a fast, stable and intelligent experience.
  • Digital pathology to view over 1,000 sections in seconds – Based on a distributed storage system and lossless compression algorithms, Huawei’s solution can accelerate pathology data query and save over 30% in storage space.
  • Intelligent hospital ward management – Using 5G, IoT and Wi-Fi technologies, Huawei’s solution helps hospitals reduce administrative costs and improve patient experience through healthcare IoT applications such as IV fluid monitoring.
  • Smart infrastructure – Huawei’s solution enables hospital operations to run smoothly 24/7.

Speaking of investments

Advances in medicine are certainly contributing significantly to raising life expectancy. On the other hand, healthcare spending also increases considerably with age. Citing only the case of the United States, 35% of total healthcare spending in 2019 was directed to people over 65 (17% of the population at the time) and 21% to people aged 55 to 64 (13% of the population). In short, 30% of the population added up to 56% of healthcare costs.

KFF study

Against this backdrop, investments in digital health technologies are key to meeting the challenge posed by longer life expectancy. The good news is that this market will grow at a compound annual rate of about 25% between 2019 and 2025, according to Statista. Investments in the sector worldwide increased rapidly from $1.1 billion in 2010 to $22.9 billion in 2020. The pandemic has raised that to $44.8 billion in 2021. However, even with a drop to $23.3 billion in 2022, this is the second highest annual investment level in history.

The global telemedicine market also recorded high growth rates, going from $49.9 billion in 2019 to a projected $149.1 billion in 2023 and is expected to reach $459.8 billion by 2030.

Already, the electronic health records market worldwide was estimated to be worth $29.16 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $27.25 billion by 2027.

AI in healthcare reached about $11.1 billion worldwide in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 37% between 2022 to 2030, reaching $188 billion. Worldwide sales of smartwatches added up from 37 million in 2016 and 232 million in 2021 and are expected to reach 402 million by 2026.