The global population will increase by 17% between 2020 and 2040. People will live longer, with more chronic diseases, thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatments. Even though health spending as a % of GDP in this period is expected to increase by 37%, we won’t have enough resources to address gaps in health needs globally. There are two main reasons why we’ll come up short in addressing our health needs-
1. The changing composition of health burden and disability: Driven by neonatal and diarrhoeal diseases just 20 years back in 2000, health burden in 2040 will be dominated by chronic cardiac, respiratory, metabolic and age related disorders. Our health workforce is inadequately prepared to address this shift.
2. The health workforce is expected to be short by 15 Million (on a projected need of 80 Million) by 2030. The deficit from 2030–2040 is likely to worsen, accounting for workers that retire over the next decade.
Here are some ideas that emerged from a recent discussion I hosted on what we need to prepare our health workforce for 2040.
1. The last 2–3 decades have seen a move from primary care to super-specialised care. We need to invest in community based, preventive and primary care systems to have a chance at managing our burden in 2040.
2. Over the last decade, we have added new roles and responsibilities for health workers, but haven’t really taken anything off their plate!
3. Let’s start by making a wish list of things we do not want our health workers doing in 5 years so they have time to upgrade and can focus on providing “care.”
4. Digital solutions are increasingly being experimented with, but the experience has been variable, and in many cases, underwhelms the potential. 5. While digital solutions must be pursued as a means of augmenting the health workforce, it is critical to start thinking of technology not for digitizing existing processes, but by reimagining and redesigning care pathways.
6. Finally, if we think of patients as recipients of healthcare, we’ll always have inadequate health workers to address our future disease burden. Let’s think of health consumers as participants in the care journeys, partnering meaningfully in preventive and primary care interventions, and then, maybe, we’ll have enough health workers to address our needs when we get to 2040!