The New Health-Care Continuum

Connected health care is slowly becoming a reality, enabling medical professionals to share data with colleagues around the world, while patients can track their own wellbeing. This transformation promises to improve the lives of billions of people, create healthier societies, save costs, and boost economic growth.

DAVOS – The health-care industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Research and development have given us astonishing new treatments, powerful diagnostics, and a rapidly growing wealth of knowledge. Medical specializations and providers have proliferated. Governments and insurers have become powerful players. And the patient has become a vocal and proactive consumer, ready to search for better options, even if that means going abroad.

But, even as health care has become more effective, it has also become more complex and costly. Growing and aging populations are putting increased pressure on health-care systems that are already buckling under the burden of chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. The Institute of Medicine estimates that in the United States alone, some $750 billion a year – about 30% of total health-care spending – is “wasted on unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems.” If we are to ensure that health care remains affordable and widely available for future generations, we need to rethink radically how we provide and manage it.

Crucially, health care needs to become connected. It should become effortless for medical professionals to share relevant data with colleagues around the world. Medical devices and systems in hospitals should be able to combine multiple sources of information. A new generation of consumer technology, such as wearable health sensors, could automatically alert doctors to potential medical problems before they become acute episodes. Though such innovations must confront challenges like system interoperability and the need to protect patients’ privacy, the Internet’s integration into the travel and banking industries shows what is possible.

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