As we approach the decade ahead, there are a number of trends taking shape in the healthcare industry as governments, insurers, and hospitals seek to deliver improved health outcomes and better manage costs.
Fuelled by an aging population and the impact of urbanization, healthcare costs are rising around the world. The Middle East region is not immune: World Bank data shows that healthcare costs as a share of GDP in MENA have risen from 4.5% in 2000 to 5.6% in 2016, the latest year for which data is available. Expense ratios in developed countries are substantially higher.
The trends behind these numbers will continue. By 2030, more than a billion people will be aged 65 or older—two thirds more than today. Urbanization is also fuelling the growth of so-called "lifestyle diseases" thanks to a more sedentary lifestyle and rising obesity rates, which is linked to a number of other diseases. The number of people with diabetes in the broader MENA region will more than double by 2045, to over 80 million, according to the International Diabetes Federation.
As a result, healthcare providers are exploring the use of technologies that could improve healthcare efficiency. Healthcare is now at the beginning of a process of digitization driven by increases in processing power, better connectivity, and changing social attitudes.
Algorithms are already used to read diagnostic images such as X-rays—they are faster and more accurate than human radiologists in many cases. Technology is also being applied to disrupt the health insurance industry. Focusing on preventive care and a more coherent health management service is hoped to prompt patients to live healthier lives and keep them out of hospital.
Other applications are more futuristic. One study published in 2018 by Verily, Google's healthtech subsidiary, assessed patients' cardiovascular disease risk by viewing retinal scans using a machine-learning algorithm. The algorithm's accuracy in detecting patients likely to suffer from heart disease within five years approached that of traditional diagnostic methods.
These are just three examples. The scope for efficiency gains in healthcare is huge, with up to $1 trillion of healthcare expenses wasted annually in the US alone on one estimate. The amount of data generated by the industry is staggering. We estimate that the healthcare industry generates 5% of all data in the world. How to better use this data will be a key question in the years to come.
The industry is changing in other ways too. Related trends include greater patient involvement in decisions about care, thanks to the easier availability of health data, and a greater focus on value for money by the insurance industry. Both consumerization and value-based reimbursement support the need for greater digitization of the healthcare industry.
Healthcare provision is likely to change in other ways as technology evolves. Genetic therapies are an exciting new type of medicine with the potential to affect one-time cures for rare and inherited diseases. A few of these treatments have reached the market in key markets like the US and Europe, and many more are in the pipeline. Should the dramatic results achieved in rare diseases be replicated in more common ones, genetic therapies could profoundly disrupt the pharmaceutical industry.
In a UBS survey last year, 45% of surveyed investors in the UAE expected to live to 100 years old. The rising cost of healthcare is one of their top concerns, with 49% worried about rising medical expenses. While the cost of increasing longevity can be a concern for some investors, we expect the growing adoption of technology in the healthcare industry to present investment opportunities in the decade ahead.
None of these trends will play out overnight. Beyond advances in technology, a supportive regulatory environment is needed, and concerns over privacy will have to be managed. But it is becoming clear that digitization will have a long-term impact on healthcare provision. Investors and entrepreneurs in the sector should be prepared.