What does the clinician of the future look like?

We summarise the key points of Elsevier Health’s ‘Clinician of the Future’ global report, which asks the question: what will healthcare look like in 10 years’ time?

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally transformed the healthcare sector in multiple ways.

Where manual processes were once the norm at hospitals, they have now largely been replaced by technology, which has become an indispensable part of healthcare operations. Where patients used to prefer being admitted to hospitals to receive treatment, more have begun opting for home-based care today. Where hospitals previously had rigid procedures in place that left little room for deviation, an agile workforce, with empowered staff, is now viewed as the future of healthcare talent management.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve to meet the challenges of a post-pandemic world, how can clinicians prepare themselves for the coming decade?

To find out what the future holds for medical practitioners, global information analytics company Elsevier conducted a massive study – involving nearly 3,000 clinicians from 111 countries – as they sought to go in-depth into the global trends and changes that will drive the next decade of healthcare.

The report looks at the clinician of the future from five different angles. The future clinician, however, will most likely encompass all of these projections, with some having a stronger focus in certain areas.

The Future Clinician as a Partner for Health

According to the study, the majority of clinicians believe that the patients of today have become more empowered to manage their conditions (56%), as compared to the previous decade. This rise of informed patients has helped to drive healthcare change, with the majority of clinicians agreeing that their role will shift to become more of a partnership with their patients (62%).

With the increasing reliance on technology and remote consulting, however, soft skills – such as listening and empathy – have become more important in the clinician-patient relationship. Nonetheless, only about half of the clinicians surveyed (51%) believe that they have enough time to provide quality care to their patients.

This is expected to lead to clinicians using real-time patient analytics to provide personalised care to their patients in future.

The report stated: “Working in partnership with their patients, the clinician of the future is adept at utilising health data and advanced clinical insights to make informed decisions. They communicate with patients in a variety of ways, from limited virtual check-ins to in-person consultations at patients’ homes.

“Clinicians’ patients have much greater control over their own medical records and health data. To keep up with the latest developments, the clinician of the future has more dedicated time set aside to learn and embrace new digital approaches.”

The Future “Total Health” Clinician

Governmental policies are regarded as a key driver of change in healthcare by the large majority of clinicians (89%), although only 42% believe that their government is on the right track in terms of their healthcare priorities.

In particular, most clinicians (79%) agree that not enough focus is being put on preventative care – this is especially pertinent, given that 93% of the respondents identified the ageing population as a trend that will shape the healthcare industry.

As a result, most clinicians (73%) expect that managing public health will become a key priority in their role over the next decade. However, with the aforementioned expected empowerment of patients, a much higher proportion of patients are likely to attend regular mandated health check-ups in future.

“The clinician of the future will get a head-start on health, taking a preventive approach and working with people to enable them to manage their own mental and physical health before they become ill – including through regular checkups,” the report explained.

“This will be helpful given the growing patient population, as the rate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) rises and the population ages. The clinicians’ education will have been focused not just on clinical knowledge and transferrable skills like communication, but also on leadership, finance management and data science.

“With a broader view of the healthcare system and a role in policy, the clinician will be shaping care and focused on health span not life span. They work in the healthcare setting and beyond, as part of an interdisciplinary team. As they are financially incentivized to promote patients’ health through value-based care rather than treat their disease, cost has less of an impact on their decision making. They work within an integrated healthcare system that focuses on prevention.”

The Future Tech-Savvy Clinician

The widespread digitalisation of healthcare over the recent years has made a huge on the industry, with 88% of clinicians recognising that it is more important being technologically savvy today than it was a decade ago.

While the majority of respondents (70%) believe that this digital transformation is a step in the right direction for healthcare, 69% of clinicians admitted that digital health technologies will be a challenging burden, especially when it comes to the overwhelming volume of patient data available.

The recent rise in popularity of teleconsultations – driven largely by the pandemic – is also expected to be a long-term trend, with 63% of clinicians expecting to conduct the bulk of their consultations remotely in future.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also likely to play a huge role in healthcare, with 56% of clinicians expecting to make most of their decisions using AI-based clinical decision support tools over the next decade.

The report elaborated: “The clinician of the future works in a system that is dependent on digital technology, and positively transformed as a result. Day to day, most of their consultations are virtual, and they use interoperable digital health software to manage patent communication, maintain patient records and help them make clinical decisions.

“They have all the data they need at their fingertips, and tech that uses artificial intelligence to highlight the most relevant information. Although they need to keep up with fast-changing tech, and will be challenged by it, they will ensure they are able to maintain empathy in a digital setting.”

The Future Balanced Clinician

The COVID-19 pandemic served to exacerbate the heavy workload being placed on clinicians, which has led to an exodus of healthcare staff in hospitals all over the world.

This is clearly reflected in the study, with only 57% of clinicians agreeing that they have a good work-life balance. The majority of doctors in the United States (71%) and the United Kingdom (66%) also stated that their roles had changed for the worse over the last 10 years.

As such, the large majority (74%) of respondents expect there to be a shortage of nurses in the coming decade, while 68% also believe that there will not be enough doctors.

Nonetheless, despite the challenges they face, 85% of clinicians say they enjoy their jobs, although 26% of them would like support for their wellbeing to be made a top priority.

“With global clinician shortages putting pressure on their time, the clinician of the future has a challenging workload,” the report stated.

“They love their job and their role is dynamic and engaging. When work pressure affects their mental wellbeing, they can lean on support systems – including digital technologies – provided by their employer, and they are part of peer support groups. They face a constant flow of new technologies and information to learn, and they are given the time to do this, to benefit patient care.”

The Future Accessible Clinician

One of the issues that clinicians are most concerned about in the coming decade is health inequity, with 68% of respondents agreeing that there is too much focus on cost instead of care. The majority of respondents (81%) also consider health inequity to be a key driver of change in healthcare.

Most clinicians (64%) believe that the increase in use of digital technologies will further impact health inequalities. This, however, is likely to be offset by the expectation of nearly half of the respondents (49%) that the majority of healthcare will be provided in a patients’ home in the coming decade.

The report added: “The clinician of the future will be part of a more equitable healthcare system, focused on ensuring everyone is able to live a long, healthy life. Their workplace extends from traditional settings to patients’ homes and community centres, helping them reach vulnerable populations.

“They build strong relationships with their patients based on being a trusted partner, and they gather environmental as well as medical background information so they can identify services, such as digital access and monitoring tools, in addition to possible housing and financial aid to promote health.

“They support their patients to maintain their own health and provide information in a format they can understand. Their workplace is committed to equality and they are given ample time for continuous development, including on emerging digital technologies. They are concerned about health inequity, particularly the negative impacts of digital technology, and they advocate for policy that promotes access to health.”

As the results of the study has shown, the healthcare landscape set to transform even further in the next 10 years – due to the fallout from the pandemic, as well as the impact of rapid digitalisation in the industry.

As such, the role of clinicians will evolve accordingly, making the clinician of the future look vastly different than the one we know today.

To access the full “Clinician of the Future” report by Elsevier, click here.