Healthcare is in dire need of reform and innovation. Western economies are spending between 8-17% of GDP on healthcare costs (with widely varying results—note: those that spend the most aren’t getting the best results).1 Increases in costs are rising faster than inflation or average earnings. Sooner or later something has to give. Geoffrey Moore2 likes to say that when there’s an imbalance of supply and demand, innovation thrives.
The opportunities for innovation in healthcare are many and across the entire value chain:
Access to healthcare: Most people in the world have little or intermittent access to doctors, nurses, or medication. What can be done to provide healthcare to people who can’t afford or get access to healthcare (people in rural areas, for example)? In emerging markets there’s a severe shortage of doctors and those that work in rural areas face a significant challenge in accessing information. One of our Cisco I-Prize innovators is focused on an idea to solve this using mobile phone technology.
Effective diagnosis: Improvements in genetic sequencing are enabling more precise diagnosis of the root cause of disease (much of medicine treats symptoms, not the underlying problem). What can be done to develop new diagnostics and to promote their widespread use? Medical imaging (x-ray, MRI, ultrasound) have enabled many doctors to see what is going on inside a patient before surgery. A Cisco I-Prize idea that expands on that is available here.
Effective treatment: Treating a patient is increasingly becoming a complex supply-chain coordination problem: a doctor receives the patient, may refer them to a specialist for a definitive diagnosis, who sends the patient to a clinic for tests, which are provided to a clinic or hospital for the specific intervention, which requires medication provided by a pharmacy and which is all paid for by one or more insurance organizations. What’s the best way to ensure that this coordination occurs in the most efficient way possible?
Providing effective medication: Developing a new drug can cost billions. Clinical trials are a significant proportion of this cost. Even when a drug is approved for treatment, it can cause significant unwanted side effects or be ineffective in a significant number of patients. What can be done to reduce the time and cost of clinical trials while increasing the safety and effectiveness of new drugs?
Long-term care: With increasing longevity, most healthcare costs are spent in treating chronic diseases (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimers). These require long-term monitoring and treatment. Hospital visits are the most expensive form of treatment, so keeping patients out of the hospital is essential to avoid explosive rise in costs. How can we provide care for hundreds of millions of people in an effective and cost-efficient way? An I-Prize example can be found here.
- Payment: Most people on earth can hardly afford healthcare. Those that can are seeing costs of healthcare rise faster than their wages. Costs are driven by waste but also deliberate fraud. In the United States, Medicare fraud has risen to $60B per year (up from $20B 20 years ago).3 How can we reduce waste (unnecessary treatments) and fraud in the healthcare system? A possible solution on the Cisco I-Prize website is proposed here.
Innovation is not just about technology—we especially need innovations in breaking through process and business model challenges that inhibit the adoption of new ideas. Patients, doctors, nurses, governments, communities, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies all have vested interests (or incentives) that can actively prevent good ideas from being adopted. For example, patients want effective, inexpensive, and convenient care. Doctors want to help people but also earn a good living. Insurance companies want to limit the costs they are liable for. Governments want to make sure that healthcare is widely available. The categories above are great places to look for innovation, but you should feel free to “think outside the box” and propose solutions in other areas.
Innovators thinking about healthcare need to be aware of rules or laws (and active stakeholders!) that can turn a logical idea into a non-starter. The best innovations will be highly disruptive but with clear benefits for patients. These ideas will leverage the latest technologies and new business models. Effective and affordable healthcare is a moral and economic imperative. We need the best and the brightest to focus their efforts here. The time to act is now.
2Watch Geoffrey Moore speak on this topic in the Cisco I-Prize Webcast Series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyWBHFWOkkY