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Six Predictions for Digital Health - From "Sick Care for the Masses" to "Health Care for the Individual" (1/6)

In the era of industrialization, physicians and scientists fought against acute sickness conditions that threatened people’s lives. At the turn to the 20th century, the average lifespan came to approximately fifty years (Oeppen, 2002). For that reason, medical innovations like Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, which enabled physicians to cure serious bacterial infections, disrupted the health industry. The discovery of such efficient ways to cure acute disease conditions rang in the era of sick care. The second evolutionary step included the development of great vaccines, advanced laboratory research of pathophysiology and evolving medical diagnostics. Treatment options for chronic disease conditions helped humankind expand its lifespan to this day. On the other hand, due to an (over-)ageing population with an increased proportion of chronic conditions, the health industry started to face new obstacles that had never occurred before.

At present, we are confronted with widening epidemics of metabolic syndrome and chronic disease. Cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes now cause 70% of U.S. deaths and account for nearly 75% of health care expenditures. However, the organizational architecture and function of our healthcare systems lies deep-seated in basal changes made at the beginning of the 20th century. Those stressed an acute, sick care approach and excluded prevention and public health. This strategy of marginalization made sense 100 years ago, given the prominence of acute infectious diseases in a young population; however, it makes little sense now (Fani Marvasti & Stafford, 2012). In 1960, the editor of the Harvard Business Review, Theodore Levitt, stated that whole industries are in great danger once they start suffering from marketing myopia, arguing that it’s always better to define a business by what customers want than by what a company can produce (Levitt, 1960). Researchers Asch and Volpp state that “the analogous situation in the health industry is that whereas doctors and hospitals focus on producing health care, what people really want is health. Health care is just a means to that end – and an increasingly expensive one” (Asch & Volpp, 2012). Once better and cheaper ways of providing health and cure of sickness can be established, old systems might vanish without warning.

Digital Helix’s first prediction for the digital future of health care is a moving away from a dogmatic understanding that health care’s primary role in people’s lives lies in treatment and cure of disease. In fact, its primary role of managing disease will only be of minor importance to consumers in the future. The much more interesting part – in terms of expanding the amount of healthy life years – will be the understanding of physiology, development, and ultimately prevention of disease on a very individual basis - in order to meet the very specific needs of every human being. Ultimately, the term “patient” will soon become obsolete while “individual” will be preferred instead to describe the future "consumer" of health. We will depart from sick care and approach individualized, data-driven health care including disease prevention and early-stage precision medicine.

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References: [1] Fani Marvasti, F., & Stafford, R. S. (2012). From Sick Care to Health Care — Reengineering Prevention into the U.S. System. New England Journal of Medicine. [2] Asch, D. A., & Volpp, K. G. (2012). What business are we in? The emergence of health as the business of health care. The New England Journal of Medicine. [3] Levitt, T. (1960). Marketing Myopia. Harvard Business Review. [4] Oeppen, J. (2002). Demography: Enhanced: Broken Limits to Life Expectancy. Science. [5] Pfister 2017. The Digital Evolution of Healthcare. [6] Image Credits: https://www.pexels.com