Posted: 04 Mar. 2021 6 min. read

2021 global health care outlook: COVID‑19 created challenges, continues to accelerate changes

By Dr. Stephanie Allen, Deloitte Global Health Care sector leader, Deloitte Australia

We are two months into 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to place an enormous strain on the global health care ecosystem. It is also continuing to challenge governments, health care providers, payers, and other stakeholders to pivot, adapt, and innovate.

One concerning trend I have been tracking is the increasing prevalence of health inequities among underserved consumers and communities. These systematic disparities often lead to unfair and avoidable differences in health outcomes among individuals and groups.1 We already see strong disparities based on gender, age, race, and income for most diseases—from diabetes to heart disease to mental health issues. COVID-19 magnified the profound impact systemic health disparities have on the well-being of individuals and their communities.

Health care stakeholders can remove some of these disparities—and serve the whole-health needs of people around the world more efficiently—by funding digital innovations that make care more accessible and customizable. For example, green shoots are already emerging in the mental health area. The pandemic has exacerbated the existing global mental health crisis as patients ignore or delay necessary treatment, according to the World Health Organization. Digital providers and experts from more than 20 countries are coming together to help support mental health needs of people who are unable to seek care through traditional channels due to the pandemic. In addition, several health technology companies are developing analytics platforms to aggregate information from diverse data sets and generate actionable insights. These insights can be used to improve patient care, provider management, and overall mental and behavioral health outcomes.

In Deloitte’s just-launched 2021 global health care outlook: Accelerating industry change, we look in detail at macro issues that are driving change in the health care sector, and present questions and actions health leaders should consider. In addition to socioeconomic shifts, these issues include:

  • Consumers and the human experience: Consumers are driving—and accelerating—the pace of change in health care. However, 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 could help increase consumer satisfaction, improve medication adherence, and help consumers track and monitor their health. Also, to maintain or even regain the trust of consumers, organizations should demonstrate responsivity, reliability, transparency, and (most importantly) a sense of empathy in how they operate.
  • Care-model innovation: Health care organizations around the world are struggling to solve the challenges of affordability, access, quality, and efficiency. Consumers 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. Care-model innovation can help deliver a more effective and satisfying patient/clinician experience and might also help bend the cost curve. Organizations should be willing to invest in optimizing or replacing foundational structures, technologies, and workforce processes. They also should consider emerging financial models—such as population health models, value-based care, and capitated payments—that put patient needs and cost-management concerns front and center.
  • Digital transformation and interoperable data: Digital transformation can help health care organizations and the wider ecosystem improve the way people work. Digital transformation can also help expand access to services and deliver a more positive experience for both the patient and the clinician. Many organizations are transitioning to health IT systems powered by cloud and data analytics tools to enable real-time, smart digital health. They are using interoperable data and platforms that are supported by deep learning capabilities and are incorporating always-on biosensors and behavioral research to shape consumer beliefs and actions. Some organizations are also applying virtual care, AI, and other technologies to personalize medicine, enable real-time care interventions, and provide behavioral nudges.
  • Collaboration: COVID-19 ignited an unprecedented level of collaboration across organizations, industries, academia, and governments and irrefutably demonstrated the value of partnering to deliver new solutions and improved health outcomes. Traditional boundaries have become more porous or even erased. This has created opportunities for new health care behaviors, new business and funding models, and more effective stakeholder collaborations, which has led to novel combinations of products and services from incumbents and new entrants. We expect to see interesting new alliances emerge between health care incumbents and technology giants, each bringing distinct strengths to the arrangement. Many of these alliances can generate value by combining and analyzing datasets and converting them into interventions that save costs, improve health quality, and enhance the user experience.
  • Future of work: Health care organizations have had to address a range of workforce challenges arising from COVID-19—in particular, ensuring  the safety and well-being of frontline staff. Ensuring future workforce adaptability and resilience will likely require data-driven, human-centric solutions that allow organizations to move quickly to support evolving employee needs. Cloud technologies, remote-work platforms, shared services, and AI can help organizations extend the remote work arrangements they established during the pandemic. 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.

Numerous foundational shifts are arising from and being exacerbated by COVID-19. How health care stakeholders analyze, understand, and respond could shape their ability to navigate from recovering to thriving in the post-pandemic world and advance their journey along the path to the Future of Health.


1 Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, The National Academies Press

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