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2021 Global Health Care Outlook

Accelerating industry change

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing enormous strain on the global health care sector’s workforce, infrastructure, and supply chain, and exposing social inequities in health and care. COVID-19 is also accelerating change across the ecosystem and forcing public and private health systems to adapt and innovate in a short period.


A number of foundational shifts are arising from and being exacerbated by COVID-19’s spread. Examples include consumers’ increasing involvement in health care decision-making; the rapid adoption of virtual health and other digital innovations; the push for interoperable data and data analytics use; and unprecedented public-private collaborations in vaccine and therapeutics development. Amid these dynamics, governments, health care providers, payers, and other stakeholders around the globe are being challenged to quickly pivot, adapt, and innovate. In our 2021 Global Health Care Outlook, we look in detail at six issues driving change in the health care sector and present questions and actions health leaders should consider in the coming year. How stakeholders analyze, understand, and respond to these issues will shape their ability to navigate from recovering to thriving in the post-pandemic “new normal” and advance their journey along the path to the Future of Health.

Consumers and the human experience

Consumers are driving—and accelerating—the pace of change in health care. Their needs and goals are driving innovation in health-related products, services, and tools. Their preferences are driving the development of digitally enabled, on-demand, and seamlessly connected clinician-patient interactions. Their demands are driving the transition to patient-centric care delivery across geographies and socio-economic groups. And their expectations are driving industry stakeholders to elevate a transactional patient/customer health care encounter into a holistic human health experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Every person’s health journey is different. Health care organizations should acknowledge this fact and tune their services to elevate each encounter into a personalized health experience.
  • Deploying new digital tools and services has the potential to increase consumer satisfaction, improve medication adherence, and help consumers track and monitor their health.
  • While consumers are more willing to share their data, health care organizations should ensure that the data serves consumers’ needs through adequate interoperability between the organizations that own or store the data.
  • To maintain or even re-earn the trust of consumers, organizations should demonstrate reliability, transparency, and most importantly, a sense of empathy in how they operate.

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Health care organizations around the world are struggling to solve long-present challenges of affordability, access, quality, and efficiency. However, existing care models can impede their efforts to adapt and evolve for the future. Care model innovation can help deliver a more effective and satisfying patient and clinician experience and bend the cost curve.

Key Takeaways

  • The long-held assumption that health care is “sick care” for the physical body is expanding to include consumers’ mind, spirit, and body. Focus is shifting from health care to health and well-being, and providers should integrate this shift into the design of their service offerings and delivery channels/locations.
  • More than ever, consumers will expect care to be available when and how it’s most convenient and safe for them. This includes virtual care, at-home prescription delivery, remote monitoring, digital diagnostics and decision support, and self-service applications for education, behavior modification, and social support.
  • Organizations must be willing to invest in optimizing or replacing foundational structures, technologies, and workforce processes, and consider emerging financial models such as value-based care, health care services, and capitated payments that put patient needs and cost-management concerns front and center.

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Digital transformation can help individual health care organizations and the wider health ecosystem improve ways of working, expand access to services, and deliver a more effective patient and clinician experience. Three technologies are playing increasingly pivotal roles around the globe—cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual care delivery.

Key takeaways

  • Health care organizations are transitioning to health IT systems powered by cloud and data and analytics tools to enable real-time, smart digital health. They are using interoperable data and platforms supported by deep learning capabilities, “always on” biosensors, and behavioral research to shape consumer beliefs and actions. They are also applying virtual care, AI, and other technologies to personalize medicine, enable real-time care interventions, and provide behavioral nudges.
  • While consumers are keen on future virtual visits, they are still not completely satisfied with their interactions with the doctor or clinician. Training personnel in building virtual interpersonal relationships can be a major step toward improving consumers’ virtual visit experience.
  • Radical data interoperability is a required foundational capability to enable health care providers, insurers, and other stakeholders to deliver patient-facing programs and associated technologies. When implemented correctly, it can help greatly improve care delivery and patient empowerment and provide a solid return on investment (ROI)

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An increasing demographic of underserved consumers and communities is leading to health inequities—systematic disparities in the opportunities groups have to achieve optimal health, leading to unfair and avoidable differences in health outcomes. What can health care stakeholders do to make health more equitable? Today’s socio-economic, mental, and behavioral health crises have made it clear that players across the health care landscape need to innovate to better serve the whole-health needs of people across the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Low-income families and people of color tend to be less healthy than other members of the population and are more likely to have more than one chronic condition. This impacts life expectancy, quality of life, even earning potential. Intervening earlier and creating more points deep into communities that enable better access to traditional care as well as food, educational resources, and connections to other social services agencies can help improve the drivers of health.
  • There is an enormous need for governments and organizations across the world to address mental and behavioral health issues. Unfortunately, industry stakeholders face considerable challenges in addressing the large scope of the behavioral health crisis.
  • Combining the power of disruptive technologies with ecosystems to create change and developing a framework of actions and commitments can empower individuals to proactively manage their health and well-being and foster a sense of community and belonging.

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One legacy of the pandemic is likely to be a renewed focus on collaboration across the health ecosystem. Traditional boundaries have become more porous or even erased, creating opportunities for new health care behaviors, new business and funding models, and more effective stakeholder collaborations, leading to novel combinations of products and services from incumbents and new entrants.

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 ignited unprecedented collaboration across organizations, industries, academia, and governments and irrefutably demonstrated the value of partnering to deliver new solutions and improved outcomes.
  • Interesting alliances are expected to arise between health care incumbents and technology giants, each bringing distinct strengths to the arrangement. Many of these are based on creating value by combining and analyzing datasets and converting them into interventions that save costs or improve quality and the user experience.

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Addressing near-term workforce challenges arising from COVID-19—in particular, safeguarding frontline staff’s safety and well-being—while also building future workforce adaptability and resilience will require data-driven, human-centric solutions that allow organizations to move quickly to support evolving employee needs.

Key takeaways

  • Cloud technologies, remote-work platforms, shared services, and AI can enable organizations to extend remote work arrangements they established during the pandemic well into the future.
  • Data on how individuals and teams interact and collaborate can help organizations look beyond the traditional organizational chart to strengthen and expand networks and collaborations, nurture new ideas, and help foster a culture of inclusion and belonging.

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Access previous versions

Review or download previous health care sector outlooks.

2020 global health care sector outlook

2019 global health care sector outlook

2018 global health care sector outlook

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