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Healthcare Hits The Melting Point

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Healthcare Hits The Melting Point

More of us are living longer but who’s going to pay for our care? In Europe, we all do, and the next generation must be...

4 Minutes Read

More of us are living longer but who’s going to pay for our care? In Europe, we all do, and the next generation must be getting queasy about how much tax they’re going to pay to support us in our dotage. Frau Merkel offers up a fascinating (and sobering) statistic about Europe:

“Europe accounts for 7% of the world’s population,
25% of the world’s GDP and over 50% of its global welfare budget...”
 

It’s not all healthcare related spending but a big chunk is. That stat 50% hits me, and I hope every single European tax payer square between the eyes. We are clearly living on borrowed time. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to figure that the current situation is neither sustainable nor desirable in our fragile, connected world. And Frau Merkel knows it because just over 10% of German GDP is spent on health-care, and like most other Western leaders, she knows that the level is set to surge as our population ages and advances in healthcare technologies demand yet more spending.

Some argue that Europe’s 20th century welfare model is already breaking down in the teeth of these demographic pressures and technology advances. Healthcare swallows up huge sums of GDP while governments wrestle with the thorny problem of injecting private money into public healthcare. It’s no surprise then to see a massive upswing in venture capital interest for digital healthcare initiatives. These could radically change the economics of public healthcare as well as the outcomes for health. Moore’s law is behind it, as is the explosion of cheap wireless devices and our data that flows onto our smart phones, rendered onto dashboards and into the hands of those charged with looking after our health.

This flow of data provides the “voice of the body” without having to be physically strapped to a bed covered in wires, sensors and pads, forcing down some god-awful hospital food. It’s happening fast as more and more healthcare innovations leverage devices, data and algorithms and find their way into the VC boardroom and secure funding (Pill-Cam anyone? See the insides of your gut as the pill passes through your body….) Not a day goes by without hearing about a cheap new service, powered by ubiquitous devices, leveraging data, creating a halo of healthcare information with a massive upside in health outcomes. As well as services to monitor you, expect to see doctors prescribing a course of medicines AND apps to support you through your convalescence. To date, there are over 40,000 health rated apps and expect your doctor to prescribe one of them to help you through the depression that accompanies the drugs for your cancer treatment.

So what’s not to like about new ways of working in healthcare that free the patient from the bed, reduce costs and hopefully improve outcomes? Nothing at all but the ramifications will be profound. This is another story about data but will our hospitals and medical profession be able to cope with the deluge of data that is about to land on them? Are our hospital networks strong enough to cope; do they have the back-end infrastructure, core systems and the data centric processes primed and ready to sift, sort and prioritize patient data. Is anyone checking that the next generation of nurses and doctors is getting trained on digital technologies? Should trainee doctors at medical school learn how to synthesize data as well as cramming on the usual oncology manuals and procedures (how long will they need to cram on manuals?). Should we measure, train and reward EQ rather than IQ from those delivering our care? What about insurance premiums and calculating the risk from the analysis of data and lifestyle? The “dark-side” is much darker, in fact blacker, than normal. What if my data gets compromised, or even worse hacked? Did you remember one-time US vice president Dick Cheney removing his pacemaker for security reasons…Now the plotline in US series Homeland where hacking in and wirelessly deactivating the Vice President’s pace maker to assassinate him doesn’t feel quite so far-fetched…

PS. I did hear a tongue in cheek rumour that the upswing in interest in digital health is a sign that California’s world famous VC community is starting to age.

 


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