Healthcare Futurist, Nicholas J. Webb, explains ways to improve and transform the healthcare system.
The challenges faced by America’s healthcare system are well documented. Despite being one of the most expensive in the world, our life expectancy—the ultimate gauge of any healthcare system—is shorter than that of Japan, Australia, Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and many other nations. Our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic was at best ineffective. The system seems like a giant beast that must be constantly fed and yet doesn’t produce the results we need.
There is good news. The beast can be tamed and made to work for us. Right now, today, we have the potential to transform healthcare in America. Innovations from every corner of the industry are helping to re-direct our cumbersome processes. They are giving us the opportunity to create a new and dynamic healthcare system that instead of being focused on diagnosis and treatment of existing diseases, puts more energy and resources into anticipation and prevention of disease, resulting in lower costs and longer lives.
The Big Shift
I call this transformation the Big Shift. As I write in my new book The Healthcare Mandate: How to Leverage Disruptive Innovation to Heal America’s Biggest Industry, the Big Shift will re-invent nearly every aspect of our healthcare system. One key change will be how healthcare providers relate to the people with whose care they are entrusted.
Traditionally, doctors knew two classifications of people. The first group consisted of patients—those people who were injured or ill, and who required diagnosis and treatment. The second group consisted of everyone else—the countless people who didn’t seek a doctor’s advice and went about their daily lives with the assumption they were healthy.
The rise of lifestyle diseases has changed that. Today, the leading causes of death are silent killers—heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes. These are diseases that can take years to develop and may have few outward symptoms. These diseases make the old approach of diagnosis and treatment obsolete, because the time the person goes to the doctor, the disease may have already progressed. They require a shift to anticipation and prevention, which results in much earlier action taken to restore good health.
From Patients to Constituents
The rise of lifestyle diseases requiring long-term management is forcing healthcare providers to think about the people they serve not just as patients but as constituents. A patient is someone you diagnose, treat, and then send home when they’ve been cured. A constituent is someone with whom you have a long-term relationship and for whose overall health you’re responsible. It’s much more like the traditional role of the family doctor, but even more proactive. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are conditions requiring more proactive intervention than what the family doctor used to do. The healthcare provider cannot wait for the constituent to seek treatment, because by then it may be too late.
The Power of Technology
How can the healthcare provider monitor the health of his or her constituents? Through emerging digital technologies. We are seeing the rollout of reliable, discreet, and highly sensitive biomedical sensors that, when worn on the body, provide real-time physiological data to both the constituent and the healthcare provider. With biomedical sensors monitoring the body’s component systems, unusual or unforeseen deviations from a healthy state can be detected before either the constituent or caregiver is aware of symptoms. By identifying those changes and combining that data with environmental data and the constituent’s medical history and genomic information, the “constituent healthcare operating system” can predict when an anomaly in a biological network represents either a harmless “spike” or something more serious that requires intervention.
Digital technology has created an explosion of personal data, and it’s going to get bigger. Information about people and their activities, known as healthcare analytics, is increasingly valuable to healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and policymakers. The market for healthcare analytics is expected to soar from $14 billion in 2019 to over $50 billion by 2024—that’s an annual growth rate of nearly 30 percent.
Abuse has become rampant. The monetary value of medical records on the dark web has surpassed that of Social Security and credit card numbers. But the Big Shift brings hope for vulnerable constituents in the form of enhanced rights of people to own and control their own personal data. These legal efforts, combined with emerging blockchain technology, will go a long way towards building a better healthcare system.
The Big Shift can happen—it only depends on how much we want it to happen.