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Why climate change will have a major impact on the future of healthcare across the world

14 February 2023

The article at a glance

Climate change will be one of the key factors in global healthcare trends over the next 50 years as people are forced from their homes and deal with extreme heat, says new study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Climate change will be one of the key factors in global healthcare trends over the next 50 years as people are forced from their homes and deal with extreme heat, says new study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Climate change will be one of the major factors in the evolution of healthcare over the next decades as people are forced from their homes and suffer ailments caused by extreme heat combined with stagnant air in urban areas, says a new study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School. 

“An increase in temperature is not only the displacement of tens and hundreds of thousands of people to new countries,” said an expert interviewed for the study, which appears in the February issue of the academic journal Futures

Long-term health consequences of climate change hard to predict

“The result of this will be an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, the spread of diseases atypical for (certain) places, psychological problems, etc. This is a very long-term trend with hard-to-predict consequences.” 

According to current estimates, the number of climate migrants is estimated at 1% of the world’s population and will rise to 19% by 2070, says the study, which identifies people with limited mobility and those suffering from chronic respiratory or cardiovascular problems as most at risk from climate change. 

Three key factors in future medical care identified

Shasha Lu.
Dr Shasha Lu

The study – “Medicine of the future: How and who is going to treat us?” – identifies 3 key drivers of the healthcare industry over the next 50 years:

  1. Climate change
  2. Well-being
  3. Data-informed personalisation.

The study’s co-authors include Shasha Lu, Associate Professor of Marketing at Cambridge Judge, Ahmed Khwaja, Professor of Marketing, Business & Public Enterprise at Cambridge Judge; and Ignat Kulkov, a Visiting Associate at the Business School.

“With today’s breakthroughs in genetics and bioinformatics and the arrival of high-tech startups, medicine is rapidly moving from healthy lifestyle recommendations for everyone to personalised programs,” says the study, which is based on interviews with 22 experts in the health industry (13 with PhDs in medicine) from 7 European countries including doctors, academics, policymakers and business experts. 

After outlining the 3 key drivers of healthcare trends over the short, medium and longer-terms, the study then identifies several “signals” that are central to each of those three drivers: 

How low-carbon healthcare presents challenge and opportunity

Ignat Kulkov.
Dr Ignat Kulkov

Climate change: The key signals related to climate change are climate migrants forced to leave their regions and low-carbon healthcare.

Regarding low-carbon healthcare, the study says that “sustainable approaches in healthcare and alignment with global climate goals present a challenge but at the same time provide an opportunity for innovations in design and operations.” 

Said one expert inverviewed for the study: “On the one hand, it is possible to reduce emissions through vegetarianism, joint consumption, and other things. All of these actions affect, in one way or another, the consumption of society and, as a result, emissions and investments in health care. On the other hand, innovation and business have an important role to play. Faster time to market for new products, testing them online instead of in humans, self-diagnosis, [and] AI-assisted disease prediction will change our lives, our habits, and routines that form the emission footprint.” 

Why just spending money on treatment is no longer the key

Well-being: The signals for well-being include value-based healthcare in which hospitals receive funding based on patient health outcomes; smart delivery of drugs to specific organs at specific times and doses; and telemedicine such as virtual consultations with doctors which took a huge leap forward during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. 

Said one expert interviewed for the study: “Value-based healthcare focuses not on the [treatment] process, but on patient outcomes, while using resources more efficiently. Just spending money on treatment is no longer interesting… Advanced vendors will be interested in the new way of working. New companies could appear. They will receive bonuses for achieving the required results.” 

Smart hospitals and wearable devices central to data-informed healthcare

Data-informed personalisation: The signals for such personalisation (delivering the right product to the right place at the right time based on the patient’s personal data) include: smart hospitals that use Big Data and other technological advances for more accurate diagnosis and other benefits, and wearable devices that provide a noninvasive way of aggregating and analysing personal physiological patient data. 

As one expert said in the study: “A smart hospital is a kind of digital ecosystem, which includes all stakeholders and is based on IT infrastructure… A smart hospital is not just the digitalisation of medical procedures, it is the reform of traditional and the construction of new business processes, healthcare management systems, for the formation of the value of which, perhaps, did not even exist before.” 

Another participant said of the development of wearable devices: “Watches and bracelets will soon be forgotten. For permanent use, you can apply a sensor or a film on things that are familiar to you, for example, contact lenses… Of course, all existing technologies such as AI, high-speed data transfer, and so on will be connected. A logical assumption would be the implantation of such a device under the skin.” 

The study

The study – entitled “Medicine of the future: how and who is going to treat us?” – co-authored by Julia Kulkova of the University of Turku and Aalto University in Finland; Ignat Kulkov of Mälardalen University in Sweden, Abo Akademi University in Finland, EDHEC Business School in France and Cambridge Judge Business School; Rene Rohrbeck of EDHEC Business School; Shasha Lu of Cambridge Judge Business School; Ahmed Khwaja of Cambridge Judge Business School; Heikki Karjaluoto of the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland; and Joel Mero of the University of Jyvaskyla.