People will live to the age of 140 within a few decades — and this is going to have a profound effect on how healthcare is delivered.
Hospitals will be transformed into mere casualty rooms as patient self-management of health becomes the norm, while 5G-connected ambulances will save millions of lives by accessing digitised trauma data and performing procedures in transit, experts told the World Economic Forum.
Meanwhile, cancers are already being detected months earlier than before, thanks to small, wearable health-monitoring devices. Computer vision is allowing the visually impaired to “see”; dyslexia sufferers are reading; and surgeons are rehearsing complicated operations in a holographic-robotics environment.
“Technology and healthcare have long existed in their own metaphorical silos, but now these two worlds are colliding,” says Albert Bourla, chief operating officer of Pfizer.
This collision means more and better medicines are being delivered faster to sick people, while biological sensors have dramatically improved diagnosis, he added. Also, predictive diagnosis brings preventive measures rather than reactive. Such dramatic transformation in the sector is having a major disruptive effect on healthcare stakeholders and their relationships, he says.
“Even the mundane — but vital — area of hospital administration is being transformed, with real-time interactive recording of patient outcomes dramatically reducing bureaucracy and costs,” notes Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.
Nadella says the artificial intelligence techniques working with data enable medical scientists to “stand on the shoulder of giants” as they can instantly access best-case history. This resolves the impossible task of practitioners keeping up with new developments and removes the problem of medical students’ knowledge becoming “outdated” on the day they graduate.
While the new technology may be dazzling, “the focus of healthcare must be on the patient,” emphasises Michael Neidorff, chairman and CEO of Centene. Care will become increasingly personalized as the particular, often unique, issues of individuals are identified. Doctors will remain essential in detailed diagnosis and care regimes.
“Chronic diseases are the leading cause of morbidity in the world, accounting for more than 60% of all deaths. Yet most of these diseases are preventable and many are reversible with accurate and early diagnosis,” says Rajeev Suri, president and CEO of Nokia.
Nokia is working on non-invasive, wearable devices that will continuously monitor vital signs — such as cortisol and glucose levels — and immediately pick up irregularities. Millions of lives can be saved, Suri says. He sees the collection of this personal data as filling the void between medical consultations, eliminating the need for repeated blood testing, for example.
Technological innovation is costly and the question of affordability and a possible widening of inequalities in healthcare provision was raised. Neidorff says this underlines the need “to recognize healthcare as a fundamental human right”.
The debate has to move in the direction of political policy to ensure that everyone can benefit. The solution to the affordability issue lies with both government and the private sector.
Other speakers underscored how much money can be saved by the new technology-driven approach, freeing funds for a broad-based healthcare system. One example is early intervention in diabetes cases eliminating 700 000 emergency room visits and 340 000 hospital admissions a year in the US. This would mean a saving of $47-billion.