The Third Way: Health + Care Redefined by New Technology and Old World Wisdom
A sea turtle can live up to 150 years. Is the first person who will live to 150 years old alive today?
Western institutional healthcare has tended to pay more attention to the “care” over the “health.” Its first priority was in treating illnesses rather than promoting the health and wellness of the patient with more proactive lifestyle choices. That’s about to change significantly in the years ahead.
Scientific inquiry made Western medicine more reductionist out of necessity, as it struggled to understand internal systems in isolation and identify causes vs. correlations. At the other end of the spectrum, Eastern and traditional approaches to healthcare have led the way in more holistic healing of the body and the mind as part of a healthy community, but they have shied away from new technologies and fundamental changes in culture.
Now, as the greater connectivity on the web, wider mobility options, and faster transportation have condensed the world into a tightly knit global neighborhood, a Third Way in healthcare is emerging that combines new technology with ancient wisdom. Longevity and optimal quality of life at any age are the goals of future healthcare’s Third Way. Take a glimpse at healthcare in the near future and the most significant factors impacting that conversation.
Home Is Where the Heart Monitor Is
House calls were the primary location and method of delivery for healthcare for centuries. Hospitals and medical centers began their lives in Ancient Rome as triage stations during wars, and the modern Emergency Room still largely functions as one. Hospitals are full of sick people by definition, but only recently have medical professionals recognized the hazards of bringing all those illness vectors together into a single facility.
The 21st century house call will encompass more than a bone-setting or a check-up. It will also be about empowering the lives of differently abled individuals and strengthening everyone’s core health profile as they age. Instead of maintenance and physical therapy, the home health care workers of tomorrow will be trained in mind and body wellness, strength-training, expanding capabilities and workforce inclusion.
Proactive and preventative health will not only vastly lower the costs of treatments, they will allow people to live at home while they work, recover, and thrive. Smart homes, teaming with IoT devices for controlling household functions, will merge with fitness trackers and remote diagnosis services.
Forever Young, I Want You to Stay
What’s the average lifespan of a human? Just two centuries ago, the answer was 35 years old for the average European. We’ve more than doubled the average life span in the Industrial Age thanks to machines and the understanding of how germs operate.
Can we double it again with robots, gene splicing and 3D printed organs in the Information Age? Is the first person who will live to 150 years old alive today? That’s what companies like Google are trying to find out. Calico is the company that represents the letter C in the consortium of startups collectively known as Alphabet, formerly known as Google. In addition, billions in financing from Google’s parent company, longevity research is finding ample funding from billionaires that include Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Mark Zuckerberg. Curiously, they are looking at not just slowing down aging but reversing it entirely. With more support and tech than NASA has ever seen, these longevity startups have a good shot are resetting everything we know about human potential.
Care, Data, and Support
“There are three broad areas of the healthcare industry that will need to participate collaboratively in open innovation: care deliverers, data exchangers, and industry supporters.” That’s how the industry is shaping up, according to Susan Wright, CEO of the healthcare consulting firm Amplifly.
Care deliverers will not only deliver care wherever its needed, she said, they will be responsible for developing new health-related products and services. They will be the overseers of virtual care communities and build up resource hubs for emergency services. Part of this includes developing more effective medications, multiple cures for diseases so there isn’t a single point of failure, tweaks to the code to eliminate or reduce side effects etc. Gene editing using CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, allows scientists to permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms. That presents the opportunity to silence disease genes before they do damage. It’s one of the hopes for “Cancer Supremacy” in our current generation.
An artists depiction of the CRISPR system in action (illustration by Stephen Dixon)
Data exchangers will represent the biggest growth area, as interoperability and uniform platforms for trading health data will see a spike in demand. Data conveners, insight engines employing AI and platform innovation will be their specialty areas. They will work closely with app designers for data-driven personal reminders like notifications on how your body is doing, reminders for medication, and a personal assistant like Siri that offers dietary or life choices more optimal health and wellness.
Finally, industry supporters will take a more leading role in building digital ecosystems, industry partnerships, and group financing structures. Governmental committees and NGOs on the grand scale will have to build the king of data platforms that provide services across continents and regional populations.
All three group need to be aware of issues that slow progress, such as the universal need for data privacy and security of health information. Blockchain networks and IoT devices that talk to each other without human intervention will be essential pieces of that puzzle.
I Sing the Body Electric
The heads of machine learning – AI, automation and robotics – are already doing some work together in the medical field that humans do poorly or simply can’t do at all. Automating the healthcare back office or optimizing AI-enhanced supply chains may not be as exciting as a robot surgeon, but these core technologies are having a much greater impact on providing care to more people in more remote locations. Equality in access to healthcare will be the greatest challenge in the years ahead, as the already unbalanced equation could easily tip further in favor of wealthier healthcare customers without significant oversight.
One factor driving down healthcare costs is medical tourism, which is getting more affordable and providing more treatment options as the costs of travel drop. Another related factor is the stem cell research that could tailor pharmaceuticals to specific individuals based on their genetics, without having to go through expensive trials on human volunteers. That is already dropping the cost of research and development, opening markets to smaller startups and threatening the business models of large scale pharmaceutical enterprises.
When it comes to Medtech in general, expect to see devices like prostheses that are more lifelike or fanciful, as we’ve seen with decorative limbs like neon legs. Implantables like pacemakers will be less risky, require fewer re-operations, and better match tissue types at a fraction of the cost of current options.
Nanotech medical robots, long the dream of science fiction writers, have at last found some practical applications in drug delivery and internal tissue repair. The controversy around this technology is over risk associated with how the body will react in the long term. There is simply no data yet to guide us.
Prognosis: Positive, but Bears Watching
The future is personal, at least in terms of tailored healthcare technology and techniques. Personalization at a cellular level is making it possible for us to repair or enhance the functioning of entire internal systems working in tandem. Holistic healthcare is seeing a rebirth as wellness and mental toughness factor into a sense of well-being that goes beyond being free of disease or injury. The next level of human actualization will be tied to making the most of our time on this planet, which is about to get much, much longer. What will retirees do with the bodies of 20-year-olds? Will they need more healthcare services or less? Will we work more or play more as automation assumes the most boring and dangerous jobs? How will that change the stress levels of workers and our overall health as a society?
We need to get out ahead of questions like these and start coming up with responsive, flexible plans. What we need most now are creative, original thinkers to imagine the best road ahead, in healthcare and how those healthcare choices impact every other aspect of our shared planet.
Join the Conversation
During Almedalen 2019 DNB is inviting experts and thinker to discuss this important topic in depth. Join the conversation on July 2nd at Hamnplan 5 in Visby, further details about the program can he found here. Welcome!