Philips revealed the results of its annual FHI report last week via a round table discussion with key industry figures. Hazel Tang sat in to bring you the key highlights and insights


The Future Health Index (FHI) report is an annual global survey conducted and published by Philips to determine the readiness of countries in addressing healthcare challenges and building resilient healthcare systems. The sixth edition of FHI surveyed nearly 3000 healthcare C-suite leaders and decision-makers across 14 countries last December, focusing predominantly on the ongoing pandemic, how countries are meeting the demands of their people today and what healthcare may look like three years from now in the post COVID-19 era.

Present at the release of the results of FHI 2021 on 5 May via a virtual round table hosted by Dr. Jan Kimpen, Philips’ Chief Medical Officer, were guest speakers Dr. Aaron Neinstein, Director of Clinical Informatics, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Professor Wim van Harten, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Rijnstate Hospital in Arnhem, Netherlands.

According to Dr. Kimpen, healthcare leaders were generally optimistic about the future despite the strange and difficult circumstances.

Telehealth is the focus of today

75% of the surveyed leaders were confident in the ability of their hospitals or healthcare facilities to deliver quality healthcare in the next three years. Two in three healthcare leaders also prioritized investment in telehealth (64%) and this is especially high in the US (89%) and the Netherlands (83%). Dr. Neinstein said the pandemic is not only a public health crisis but also “an x-ray of the soul of an institution”. Healthcare providers need to continue their care for those with complex medical conditions on top of ramping up their effort for COVID-19 patients and kick start a mass vaccination program.

It’s challenging to balance all tasks but Dr. Neinstein stated he was glad that many things that would normally take 10 years to materialize are now taking place in six months. He cited one of the biggest roadblocks to the changing healthcare delivery that was overcome rapidly during the crisis was cultural expectations among patients; “Within the first few months into the pandemic, we saw that many, including the elderly, started using video conferencing technologies to form or continue their social relationships and doing things that they typically would have left home for. I think any cultural barrier to telehealth melts away very quickly. COVID-19 has been a huge accelerant in the country.”

Dr. Neinstein believes other barriers such as reimbursement and a lack of confidence would still impact healthcare from going fully digital because it’s a quality-focus domain. “In healthcare, the rewards for incremental innovations are rather low but the punishment for failure is high,” he explained. “This instigated a risk-averse culture. I think how we incentivize transformation and innovation become particularly important.”

Dr. Neinstein added that even though the US had adopted EHRs a decade ago, healthcare systems have not considered other technologies like having robust analytics systems to tell practitioners how they have performed in delivering healthcare processes and if they are meeting patients’ expectations. “We need to continue to iterate them as an important part of digital transformation and develop appropriate interfaces for software in multiple systems to communicate and meet the needs required in a different part of the healthcare business,” he said. “These are the things that had happened in other industries and we should look forward to healthcare leveraging such transformation too.”

AI to deliver improvement of the future

In terms of AI, FHI 2021 revealed that 26% of the healthcare leaders regarded the technology as their top priority now while 40% said it would be their priority in three years. This increase is again, particularly marked in the US (13% to 80%) and the Netherlands (12% to 76%). Leaders in emerging economies like Saudi Arabia (98%), India (94%) and Russia (85%) said they will prioritize AI investment in three years. Overall, the majority of healthcare leaders believe AI has the potential to improve workflow and be a vital decision-making tool.

Professor van Harten regards AI as the key to allying. He said in the Netherlands, AI applications are expected to be integrated into diagnostic tools yet there isn’t much research funding to massively invest in AI research. As such, collaborations become an avenue to make discoveries. For example, Rijnstate Hospital had partnered with the University of Twente to develop an AI model to assess CT scans of stroke patients to make swift decisions on whether they qualify for intra-arterial thrombectomy, a minimally invasive neurosurgical procedure to remove blood flow obstruction in the brain.

“We have also worked with seven teaching hospitals to build a large and comprehensive data analytics platform,” Professor van Harten continues. “This would not have been possible if you are a single institution. You just won’t have the kind of power.” But Dr. Neinstein emphasized that we are still in the early days of AI. “We remain reliant on fax machines and manual and cumbersome workflows are evident throughout our healthcare delivery system,” he said. “There are many opportunities for AI and machine learning to be deployed in a less risky manner to save time and energy.”

For example, the UCSF’s center for digital health innovation had developed a tool that read facts and transforms them into digital information using machine learning. This helps route the information to the right place in the organization. Traditionally, this would have required a massive amount of human energy but now it allows us to have staff working directly with our patients on the phone, communicating with them rather than typing the information that’s coming off the fax machines.

In addition, the institution had also developed a critical care X-ray suite with GE Healthcare, whereby machine learning algorithms are built into the portable X-ray machines and help to identify certain abnormalities on x-rays. “None of these tools are to do with diagnosis,” said Dr. Neinstein, “But we want to automate some of this low-value work and help care providers to stay efficient in their work.”

Making healthcare environmentally sustainable

A surprising factor that emerged from FHI 2021 was that many healthcare leaders are working towards making healthcare environmentally sustainable. 58% expect their hospital or healthcare facilities to prioritize implementing sustainability practices three years from now, up from just 4% whose hospital or healthcare facility is doing so currently. The trend is more pronounced among leaders who work in technologically advanced hospitals or practices (71%) and those in developed markets (65%), with France (86%) and Germany (81%) are leading the way.

Professor van Harten said Rijnstate Hospital had started a new four-year strategy and set several sustainability goals in the percentage of green energy, climate control and energy reduction in operating rooms. “We will also be having a new operating site in two years and it will be the first in the Netherlands to be powered by hydrogen,” he added. “I believe it’s inevitable for hospitals to engage in these activities, but our priorities will always be patient and care delivery.”

Aside from appropriate strategies, Dr. Neinstein believes it’s also crucial to measure what is or has been taking place. “This drives our understanding of where the low-hanging fruits are for sustainability and how to improve from our present practices,” he explained. He noted medical facilities play a role too by asking patients to take up telehealth rather than travel far for their care to reduce carbon emission. “Technology will definitely play a role and have an impact on sustainability.”