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  • Writer's picturePaul Tero

Global Megatrends and Industry Division Q

Future of Health Care and Social Assistance

One requirement for a community to function well is for that community to be healthy. In the recent past, and in centuries long gone, the human experience of health has been dogged by plagues, pandemics and pestilences. The human experience also includes suffering in the emotional and mental spheres, in the breakdown of relationships and families, in the pain of physical injuries that are visited upon our bodies, as well as the precious and delicate sunrise and sunset stages of life. And across all of this our knowledge has advanced. We are more aware of hygiene now than several centuries ago, and we have a wider range of medicines than we had even several decades ago.

This all speaks to change. For just as we have witnessed advances in medicine and approaches to mental health, so we will see further improvements in medical technology and cognitive science. The health care and social assistance industry has, and will continue to, experience change – and that is what this topic is about. What could happen in terms of careers and business. A futurist’s take on how things might pan out over the next 10 years or so.

Specifically, though, the future of this industry is viewed through the lens of climate change and computerisation. For these are the two global megatrends that are shaping much of the world as we know it. There are other global megatrends, in areas such as a growing middle class across Africa and Asia (eg now at about 30% of African population and about 60% of Asian population), but their influence on the information media and telecommunications industry is not as significant.

About the global megatrend of climate change

At a high level we can easily list the ways that the rising atmospheric concentration of green-house gases has changed our world – greater number of hot days, longer summers, an increase in ocean temperatures. But we also need to be aware of what changes have been wrought at a localised level. Given that with every degree increase in temperature the atmosphere can hold 7% more water vapour, there will be more frequent heavy precipitation events. This has been shown to be true in across the Midwest and Northeast areas of the United States (up between 27% and 71% since the 1950s), across Japan (up about 40% since the 1970s), and Northern Europe (up about 10% since the 1960s).

One often overlooked aspect of this increased rainfall is the impact it has upon the soil. Whilst we are familiar with heavy rain causing flooding and the dislocation that befalls upon communities (eg. damage to houses, roads, shopping centres, etc), what seemingly remains hidden is the damage being visited upon the soil in that flooded locale.

This rise in localised rainfall leads to increased soil erosion, to changes in the content of organic carbon across the various soil horizons, and to shifts in soil alkalinity and available nutrients. All having an impact upon agricultural productivity, water quality, and vegetation.

About the global megatrend of computerisation

Just as the size of computer memory, whether for mass storage memory (ie. HDD and SSD) or working memory (ie. RAM), has exponentially grown over the last few decades so too has the speed in which data is transferred into and out of memory.

The purpose of working memory is to hold data that is being processed. This is similar to what we do when we say multiply two numbers in our head. Our synapses fire at a set rate as we perform the arithmetic expression on the operands. In the case of the computer, the faster the rate of transfer between the RAM chip and the processor chip, the quicker the calculation can be calculated.

In the mid-1980s this transfer rate was about 500ns (nano-second = millionth of a second), current RAM speed is rated in billionth’s of a second.

The purpose of mass storage memory is to hold the results of the processed data. This is similar to writing on a piece of paper a calculation that we have performed in our head. In the case of the computer, the faster the rate of transfer between the SSD or HDD and the processor chip, the quicker the computer can move onto more calculations.

As for the increase in the transfer rate for mass storage, the pattern is the same for HDD and SDD as it is for RAM. From millionths of a second 40 years ago, to billionths of a second today. The trend of ever faster data transfer rates for both types of computer memory will continue – to ever smaller fractions of billionths of a second.

The impact of these two influences

There are obvious impacts of climate change upon the health care and social assistance industry.

From increases in risks to health from longer and hotter summers, to increased exposure to water-borne diseases and mental health stresses from flooding. From aggravation of respiratory conditions because of more bushfires, airborne allergens, and air pollution to changes in dietary patterns because of distortions in food production and strains on food security.

All of these factors that impinge upon the health of individuals, and communities more broadly, influence the delivery of health services. The systems that provide the care and assistance will come under strain as local patterns of need change.

It means more people may be in hospital because of elongated heat waves, or greater numbers of front line staff to deliver medicines to combat pathogens in areas that are flooded for longer. It means an increased usage of equipment such as air purifiers in domestic and commercial settings. And it means changes in trade flows and agricultural practices to ensure dietary requirements are met.

It also implies changes to public health messaging, to ensure people are aware or, and respond to, environmental conditions that they are not familiar with.

Another important aspect of the care and assistance system are the facilities from which this care and assistance is delivered from. Buildings will need to be carbon neutral. That is, that either from new, or from a retrofit, these facilities will need to consider factors such as: local wind and sunlight conditions for heating and cooling, insulation and energy efficient systems to control internal temperature, humidity and air quality, the production of on-site renewal energy, and even waste recycling.

Further operational improvements would include participation in circular economy efforts.

Underpinning all of this are the flows of capital and operational finance. The primary consequence of the above is that more financial support, above a normal growth rate, will be needed over the coming years. Capital expenditure on buildings and on equipment. Operational expenditure on staffing, on messaging, and perhaps on different medications.

The second order effect is that unless the flows of finance rise to meet the needs inequalities in the communities served may be exacerbated.

The other global megatrend to canvass is increasing computerisation.

We can, in measure, look at changes and innovations from the last few years to get a sense of where this megatrend might head in this industry.

We’ve seen improvements in communications technology enable the uptake of telemedicine. Advances in health monitoring technology, particularly in the physical fitness space, have led to greater acceptance and use of remote devices for monitoring patient health. And higher performing computer technology has facilitated the sharing and storing of ever more complex health records between health professionals.

As with other industries, this megatrend facilitates greater levels of digitisation (ie. conversion of physical data to digital data) and digitalisation (ie. conversion of physical processes to digital processes). Thus we are likely to see, among other things, shifts to portable personal electronic medical records, to electronic prescriptions replacing the paper slips doctors give you after a consultation, to efforts for greater transparency and accountability in patient services pricing, and to greater use of specialist health-related smartphone apps.

However, as more data and processes become digital losses and damage from successful cybersecurity attacks rise. Fraudulent use of an individual’s medical records include the creation of lines of credit in the victims name. Hospital and medical centres can be held to ransom using cyber means. Individuals can be blackmailed through threatened exposure of private medical conditions. The frequency of these types of events are not likely to abate over the coming years.

On the positive side, advances in both AI and quantum computing are likely to drastically alter some aspects of health care. AI will lead to further advances in diagnostic and treatment recommendations, to better systems of engagement with patients to facilitate better health outcomes, and to efficiency improvements in healthcare administration.

With respect to social assistance, increased computerisation will improve the operational efficiency of these services.

For example, with the supply of aged care support staff being constrained the application of robotics will fill the shortfall. Similarly with marriage guidance services – if the couple were brought together through a smartphone app, it is conceivable then for that same smartphone app to help them through periods of difficulty.

While inherently human-centric services, it is similarly conceivable that AI may play a part in in welfare services and disability assistance services.

Again, as it is with other industry divisions, so it is with the industry division of health care and social assistance. The global megatrends of climate change and computerisation have had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future. Climate change will primarily be felt in terms of the range of localised health services able to be delivered. Surge capacity will be critical. Computerisation will mainly have an impact upon the operational efficiency of all aspects of service delivery. Important to note is that while this industry division is not causally linked to any other, their may be flow on effects with respect to how climate change affects other sectors of a local economy.

What are your prospects

From the preceding, and from a career perspective, there are several observations that can be made:

  • If you are more the “get it done” type: you’ll be increasingly dealing with people who have been affected by climate extremes

  • If you are more the “thinking” type: there’ll be more data and a greater need to analyse data from a systems perspective in order to manage operations, patients and industry regulations

  • If you are more the “creative” type: you’ll be looking for ways for AI to be involved in patient care and in organisational administration

  • If you are more the “helper” type: you’ll be needed to support those responding to extreme weather events, and those who are being affected by the introduction of newer technology

  • If you are more the “leader” type: you’ll need to be very comfortable with leading people in an industry where weather events are increasing your community’s level of uncertainty and with providers that see technology as an all-encompassing panacea

  • If you are more the “structure” type: you’ll be faced with not only uncertainty in the community you serve, but also with changing regulatory responses to climate change and computerisation

Overall, from a career perspective, in the years ahead you’ll need to comfortable with an industry that in many ways is being significantly challenged by these two global megatrends. The challenge will mainly come from the communities that healthcare and social assistance organisations serve.

And from a business perspective, like with other industries, when it comes to responding to climate change it is all about mitigation (ie. shifting focus to reduce risk) and resilience (ie. fortification to handle risk). And, when it comes to computerisation, its all about automation and using data. So, for those operating within the healthcare and social assistance industry, likely business prospects are along the following lines:

  • Mitigation: diversify service offering, preventative health messaging

  • Resilience: supply of surge workforce, carbon neutral buildings

  • Automation: aged care services, hospital administration and services

  • Data analysis: patient care, impact of changes to local environment

Overall, and quite obviously, for businesses there are both risks to be aware of and opportunities to exploit in the change that is happening.

The healthcare and social assistance industry, like all other sectors of any economy, is being affected by the global megatrends of climate change and computerisation. While both these phenomena continue to have an impact the industry, the greater portion of the influence of climate change will stem from how the people this industry serves are affected. In the case of computerisation, the greater portion of influence will arise from both advances in technology and any regulatory updates because of these advances.


For available resources and services to assist you with conversations and actions related to this article, please navigate to the "strategic foresight resources" page.


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