Kaveh Safavi is the lawyer who changed his path to become a general practitioner and pediatrician. He has spent many years trying to bridge the gap between people and technology, providing novel solutions to old problems. Kaveh has worked in more than twenty-five countries, and in a Swedish podcast run by Forum for Health Policy, he talks about the major challenges facing all the world’s healthcare systems, as the demand for care is becoming greater than the supply.

Increasing demand for personalized healthcare experiences

Sofia Krouthén, Accenture, summarizes Kaveh Safavi’s thoughts

Kaveh Safavi notes that Sweden is no exception when it comes to the major challenges facing healthcare. In his reasoning, Kaveh highlights three fundamental trends that healthcare systems in most western countries will need to address.

  • Flexible care, regardless of location – the ability to offer care wherever the patient is: at home, in a temporary location (as during the pandemic), or in temporary healthcare facilities etc.
  • The shortage of nursing staff – the demand for nursing services is greater than the supply of staff. Hence, there is a need to further accelerate the work of combining people’s knowledge with innovative technology.
  • Two-dimensional person-centered care – care that is based on both biology and patient experience, where decisions are made with help from other metrics than simply the medical record. Care needs to adapt to the patient and not the other way around.

As people’s expectation of personalization increases in the rest of society, it will also become of greater importance in healthcare. The importance of meeting individual needs is constantly growing, and healthcare systems can address this by developing structures to meet patients on their terms. This can be achieved by making care more adaptable, using innovative technologies and uncover new work processes, says Kaveh Safavi.

One important message that Kaveh shares, is that there is no ideal healthcare system. All systems reflect a combination of local factors, such as demographics, politics, and socioeconomics. However, there are general basic skills that is shared across societies, and in all Western countries, care is conducted in similar ways. Medical education and interaction between doctor and patient are also relatively consistent. To fundamentally change the healthcare systems, investments are needed to increase the capacity of care, without increasing the strain on healthcare staff. Today, many healthcare systems are built around one main thing: seeing a doctor, but with reallocation of budgets, innovative technology and a novel approach to work processes, this system could change and contribute to meeting the patients’ needs, with an increased accessibility to healthcare as a bonus.

Kaveh highlights data management as an example where all countries struggle, especially in regard to legislation and implementation. For instance, data is so much more than the information presented in medical journals, and there is an ongoing debate about which data can be used to support patients further. Kaveh himself currently works with analysis and decision support tools for home care. This puts high demands on technical infrastructure and capacity for implementation. For global technology companies, as well as healthcare systems, data management is about complying with regulations. Kaveh emphasizes that various healthcare stakeholder must become better at offering local data within national borders, sharing technical capacity, creating a common system structure as well as encouraging political support for reforms that increase the efficiency of healthcare data management.

Looking ahead, towards what the future of healthcare could look like in 2040, Kaveh believes the system will be vastly different. While he sees that traditional metrics such as quality of care will remain, metrics covering the patient’s experience of care is likely to be developed as well. For patients, their experience covers the entire healthcare journey; from the first contact to treatment and follow-up. Here, digital technology can help healthcare providers to analyze how the patients experience response and treatment. The pandemic contributed to both healthcare professionals and patients using digital alternatives to traditional face-to-face interactions, resulting in accelerated digitalization. During the most intensive phase of the pandemic, 50 percent of all clinical care in the US was conducted digitally. Before the pandemic, this figure amounted to around 5 percent. Today, about 20 percent of all clinical care is conducted digitally. Kaveh Safavi believes this ratio will remain, especially in certain therapy areas. Another lesson he takes from the pandemic is that the best solutions often come from collaborations between several stakeholders (private and public sector) and a mix of physical and digital processes, where everyone strives towards the same goals.

All healthcare systems reflect their individual culture, but according to Kaveh, countries should avoid comparing themselves too much to others. While most countries complain about their own healthcare systems, they strongly defend it in comparison to others. Therefore, the question is rather how to make the system better with the help of learnings, not to copy another healthcare system altogether. To implement this, strong leadership within the system is required. Society’s demand is a signal, but the real change needs to come from decision makers and top-level management. Leaders of the future must dare to design processes that offers more than just risk minimization, and instead focus on the best interest of the individual patient.

Many countries are looking into “borrowing” different models used in healthcare, but there is another way to approach this. In all rich countries, regardless of the extent of the private or public sector, the cost of care grows 1-2 percent faster than GDP. The three main reasons are 1) the cost of labor increases as the economy grows stronger 2) new science breakthroughs resulting in more diseases being treated and 3) an aging population. To this day, no country has reached the point where human labor within healthcare is actively being supplemented with technological innovation. Instead of borrowing models from each other, Kaveh recommends that we look at the challenges we share, and how we can solve these in the best way together.

To achieve a major change in healthcare systems, a move of resources, funding and behavior is required. Moreover, cooperation is needed to ensure continuity across processes. Kaveh Safavi highlights an example of a close relative to him, who´s living with a rare disease. This relative has had a lot of interaction with healthcare system across several points of contact, getting various advice on different treatment methods, even conflicting ones. Fortunately, another relative was able to aid in coordinating and managing the interaction with the healthcare providers. While the science behind the care offered is fantastic, says Kaveh, the relative would not be alive today if she did not have someone who could help ensure the best treatment possible. Today, most patients need someone to help them navigate the healthcare system. Despite digital tools and research that makes new treatments possible and giving patients better outcomes, the system also needs to accommodate for individuals’ interaction with the providers. So even if there are great possibilities to prevent diseases today, Kaveh concludes that more factors need to be considered; genetics, socioeconomics, environment and more, making it difficult to prevent all risk factors faced by patients. The healthcare systems of the future will be more characterized by the expectations of patients and the general public, meaning that the healthcare systems of today need to adapt further to address the patient’s current needs.

Listen to the entire interview here (English)

Kaveh Safavi, expert in global healthcare & Senior Managing Director at Accenture