In 2050, doctors will be making use of advances in medical imaging, surgical techniques and improved understanding of genetics to enhance patient care. •
Patient demographics will move towards an increase in elderly and obese patients, leading to an emphasis on preventative medicine and chronic disease management. Population growth will also place a strain on the NHS. •
International cooperation will be improved to tackle global healthcare problems such as antibiotic resistance. •
The structure of the NHS will change, with doctors taking a greater role in the management of the health service. •
Current issues such as alcohol consumption and pollution could manifest themselves in a greater prevalence of associated illnesses in 2050.
The role of the doctor in delivering patient care is one that is continuously changing in response to scientific advances and patient demographics. Clinicians in the next few decades are likely to find themselves placing an ever greater focus on the burgeoning healthcare issues of today, while medical technology continues to develop and have a similar impact on health provision in the future as has been evident in the latter part of the 20th century. The NHS will change beyond recognition by 2050, altering the professional role of doctors, while increasing antibiotic resistance will necessitate greater international cooperation within the healthcare community.
Among the most pertinent issues facing the NHS today is the rising prevalence of obesity: the government’s Foresight Report (2008) estimates that by 2050, half of all adults will be obese , with the associated healthcare and economic costs predicted to reach £45bn a year . Already a well established problem, the consequences of rising levels of obesity are likely to manifest themselves in an increased number of patients presenting with congestive heart failure, type II diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, with 70,000 preventable premature deaths a year in the UK attributed to poor nutrition , the results of this trend are likely to include not only an increase in the prevalence of obesity-associated morbidities, but also an increased focus on preventative medicine by the healthcare profession, with doctors possibly taking a larger role in the media to guide public behaviour. It is worth noting, however, that even a highly successful initiative targeted at reducing obesity levels would still incur a “considerable time lag” of between 20 and 30 years before the benefits were seen in terms of reduced levels of chronic disease , and that as such, obesity is likely to remain a major health issue in the UK beyond 2050.
Additionally, the ageing population of the UK will inevitably place an ever greater strain on the NHS in the next four decades: with the number of people aged 65 or older predicted to increase from one in six (present) to one in four by 2050 , and the dependency ratio in Britain expected to fall from four at present to two by 2050 , the elderly will become a demographic using an ever greater proportion of increasingly stretched NHS resources. The solution to this must comprise of a combination of more state expenditure on care and an increased focus on treatment in the community, making use of new technology to monitor people at home and minimising the necessity for multiple visits to hospitals or GPs by having doctors visit and assess patients in their own homes. For doctors working directly with patients, in any setting, the marked increase in elderly patients will be most apparent in the increased prevalence of age-associated illnesses such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. It is likely that preventative medicine will feature heavily in the treatment of the elderly, as changes in the way we live in the industrialised west lead to a greater emphasis on the promotion of a healthy lifestyle in an attempt to reduce the incidence of some of the more easily preventable age-associated illnesses that...
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