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“Previously unthinkable advancements such as the 3-D printing of personalized knee replacements are happening now”

A report on my keynote for the 2016 Benefits Pro conference in Fort Lauderdale earlier this week.

Health care: The Future is Now
BenefitsPro, April 2016
BY SHAWN MOYNIHAN

When listening to futurist Jim Carroll speak, one thing becomes apparent quickly: The future belongs to those who are fast.

Onstage Monday delivering the keynote at the Benefits Selling Expo inside Great Hall 3, Carroll delivered a rapid-fire, deeply insightful “fast future” presentation on where the future of health care and benefits is headed. And to hear him tell it, it is bright for those who would embrace the impact of mobile technology and how the Internet of Things (IOT) will reshape the entire process of health care a lot sooner than later.

For starters, Carroll explained, 10 years from now, health care will look nothing like it does today. A fundamental transformation, he explained, is on its way, and in many cases, already happening. Genetic testing and DNA sequencing will forever alter the manner in which illness is forecasted, diagnosed and treated: in advance of the condition arising rather than after the fact, the way medical professionals do now.

Years ago, he said, having a hand-held device that monitors vital signs, takes your blood pressure, and reads your EKG was the stuff of science fiction. Today, it is a reality, courtesy of the Scanadu Scout (a tool now being tested by more than 7,000 people in more than 70 countries), and that tech will only become less expensive as time goes on. It’s not farfetched, Carroll added, to imagine a day when you can walk into Best Buy and purchase an inexpensive device that does all these things and more, including diagnosing future ailments.

With the advent of technologies that monitor health signs via wearable devices and mobile devices connected to the Internet, only those patients requiring critical care will also change the way hospitals operate — which is advantageous, considering the number of baby boomers who will comprise so much of the U.S. population in the coming decades.

What does all this mean? Massive opportunity, for those who would think forward and recognize how the IoT will shape the world of pharmaceuticals and benefits. The World Economic Forum posits that the global economic impact of the five leading chronic diseases — cancer, diabetes, mental illness, heart disease, and respiratory disease — could reach $47 trillion over the next 20 years.

What if technology could allow medical science to get out in front of that, so that those costs could be slashed?

Carroll said such a world is not as far off as it would seem. Such revolutionary developments in health care virtualization will be driven by big goals and big thinking, said Carroll. Onscreen, he showed the frightening statistics on obesity levels in the U.S. over the past few decades over a map of all 50 states, staggering numbers that illustrate one of the great health challenges of the modern age. However, that’s not even the biggest worry looking forward.

“Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will be the great challenge of our time,” said Carroll, noting that his mother-in-law had suffered and died from the condition (Jim: it was my father in law...), the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Going forward, however, developments in science will allow for earlier detection and better treatment options.

Luckily, medical knowledge, Carroll said, is doubling every eight years. Previously unthinkable advancements such as the 3-D printing of personalized knee replacements are happening now; the growth of replacement organs is something that will be available to medical professionals within years, not decades. Ingestible technology will be able to show us how we’re responding to medications, by offering diagnostics on how our bodies are reacting to treatment.

The greatest challenge faced by health care CEOs, Carroll said, includes the need to focus on a direct relationship with the customer — which will require wholesale re-engineering of member plans — and rapid deployment of mobile products to meet customer expectations. People will become far more engaged with matters of their own health, as they are empowered with technology that’s connected to their mobile device.

Carroll acknowledged what he called the “organizational sclerosis” that hampers big ideas and innovative thinking, but offered this piece of advice for those whose ideas may alter the health care landscape: “Think big, start small, and scale fast.”

I’ve recently done a number of very high profile talks in the health care, pharmaceutical and related industries, including opening the recent World Pharma Innovation Congress in London, England.

Just last week, I was the opening speaker for a very early start at 730AM in New Orleans for over 4,500 people at the International Foundation 57th U.S. Annual Employee Benefits Conference – always a fascinating experience to have that many people out in N.O. for an early keynote!

The organizations selected me specifically because I could give them an overview of future health care trends, without taking at look at the political issue of health care reform. After all, the real trends that will provide the real solutions to some pretty massive challenges in the world of health care will come from the world of science, hi-tech and pure research — not from an ongoing, relentless, annoying and ultimately useless amount of hot-air from politicians, regardless of their political stripe.

For New Orleans, the keynote description emphasized this : which is perhaps why so many showed up!

“Jim Carroll, one of the world’s leading futurists, will share his thoughts on transformative trends that will define the road ahead in the critical area of health care. The fact is we will witness more change in health care in the next ten years than we have seen in the last 200. Hear Mr. Carroll forecast what paradigms will change as health care is transformed through the next decade, far beyond the impact of health care reform.

At events such as this one and the keynote in London, I take a look at the future of health care from the perspective of medical science, social and demographic trends, the impact of increasing velocity of knowledge and other major trends that have absolutely nothing to do with the political debate around health care reform. You can’t wish a problem into a solution — you need pure research and innovation to make things real.

And certainly one of the trends that is going to provide tremendous opportunities for innovation in the sector will come about as Silicon Valley sets its sights on health care. Years ago, a senior executive at Intel noted that “we have the potential to aim our innovation engine at the age wave challenge and change the way we do health care from a crisis- driven, assembly-line, hospital approach to a personal-driven approach, with people taking care of themselves with help from family, friends and technologies.” At the time they were speaking of health care being one of their top five sources of revenue in the years to come.

That’s why one of the biggest growth markets we are beginning to witness now is emerging as Silicon Valley and the hi-tech industry begins to get involved in the world of health care in a whole variety of different ways.

First and foremost, it’s happening in a very big way with consumer-oriented health care apps, particularly on the iPhone and Android. A recent survey indicated that:

  • 78% of consumers are interested in mobile health solutions
  • medical and health care apps are 3rd fast growing category for iPhone and Android phones
  • the Apple App store now has 17,000 health care related apps, 60% of which are aimed at the consumer

We will certainly see a huge amount of product innovation, such as the new iPhone based blood pressure monitor from Withings:

What is really significant is that with such personal medical monitoring and wellness technology, we are going to see very significant involvement by health care providers and professionals, insurers and others within the system to adapt to a new world in which a large number of patients become immersed in the world of interactive healthcare and wellness monitoring.

Then there is the world of bio-connectivity — a trend that will see the emergence of more sophisticated medical device technology that will let medical professional monitor their patients from afar. This is a topic that I’ve explored at length in a variety of posts on this site. Quite simply, in the years to come, the concept of a physical hospital is going to change as it goes virtual through the extension of bio-connectivity technologies and methodologies:

  • Imagine the hospital of 2020? I can 
  • The future of seniors care / assisted living: Big trends or crazy ideas? 

Silicon Valley will also play a huge role as it comes to develop real time health care predictive dashboards and other new forms of medical insight that will help the system to be better predictors of emerging health care risks and crisis situations. Big math, big computers, big analytics and health care – a match made in heaven!

  • Remember those kids who were really good at math? They own the future 

It doesn’t stop there. In the world of pharmaceuticals, the impact of Silicon Valley is going to have one of the most dramatic impacts on an industry that we have ever witnessed. For years, the sector has been busy exploring the opportunity for ‘pharmacogenetics’ — that is, how can we determine if a particular drug treatment is going to have its greatest impact on a group of people who share a common characteristic in their DNA.

This type of very specific genomic medicine has been around for years — but it is about to take off like a rocket as Moore’s law comes to have an impact. Quite simply, the cost to do what were once very expensive genetic tests are simply going to plummet.

  • Costs of DNA sequencing falling fast – look at these graphs 

I could go on ; there are dozens of examples where the impact of technology upon the health care system is going to be dramatic.

Suffice it to say, if you want to watch one of the trends that will have the most impact in the next decade, this is one of them.

 

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