Cracking the engaged aging code through technology

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EY - Pamela Spence

By Pamela Spence
EY Global Life Sciences Industry Leader

They’ve been killers for years: heart attack, cancer, stroke and neurological disorders. But they are becoming increasingly common as the world’s population ages and becomes more sedentary. For governments and organizations across the health care system, the escalating costs of these chronic diseases threatens their existence as well.

It’s estimated that before 2020, the global population aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5, something that has never happened before. Meanwhile, over the next 30 years the number of people over 65 will triple to 1.5 billion. The costs associated with treating this rapidly aging population are staggering. The World Economic Forum projects that treating chronic, non-communicable disorders could cost an estimated US$47 trillion from 2010 to 2030.

By some estimates, as a society we spend approximately 50 times more on managing diseases reactively than we do on preventing them. For years, we have exposed our bodies to a host of insults and stress to a point where our cells can no longer maintain optimal function. It is at this point that age-related diseases manifest.

EY believes the goal should be to delay the functional decline and extend our health spans using transformative technologies. In a recent article, the second in our Engaged Aging series, we delve into the integral role new technologies will play in the shift from disease management to disease prevention.

In the near term, this may mean leveraging sensors and IoT technologies in smart phones and wearables to monitor and manage known diseases. Longer term, we will need to deploy genetic and regenerative medicine and improve analytic and human behavior to treat people before they get sick.

These are good goals. However, we also believe that the real shift to wellness will come when we have made such strides in pre-emptive efforts, when they are so entrenched in our day-to-day lives that we no longer think of them as preventative. Wellness will simply become part of our everyday routine.

So, how do we do that? Although there is no one magic bullet, we believe a convergence of technological advancements and trends are already underway that could help bring the concept of "healthy aging" to a reality.

  • New forms of data integration - as costs of genomic sequencing continue to rapidly decline, there is an opportunity to pursue large-scale mapping and identification of new biomarkers for risks of diseases associated with aging. Combining and integrating this genomic data with other forms of "real world" data, including that generated by wearables and behavioral data derived from social media and patient advocacy sites, will help usher in a new era of precision medicine approaches for identifying disease risks before they manifest.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) - deep learning, a branch of AI which I've written about before, is poised to be a critical tool for helping to shift from disease management to disease prediction and in identifying the best means to drive behavioral change. Once strictly the realm of science fiction, AI deep learning algorithms are already being successfully applied by a number of health start-ups exploring the science of longevity.
  • Next-gen sensors – the use of sensors in phones and wearables is already paying health and economic dividends in the monitoring of diseases associated with aging but that should only be the tip of the iceberg. Next-gen sensors will be both smaller and "always on." This will reduce the need for the consumer to interact with it regularly, which will improve the collection of biological and environmental data needed to take the science of behavioral change to the next level.

To be successful, these technological advancements will need to be inherently linked with the current trend in health care of "P-medicine" or medical care that is personalized, precise, preventative, predictive, pharmaco-therapeutic and participatory. At its core, this trend is about driving greater communication and collaboration between physicians, consumers and other stakeholders with the goal of addressing health challenges before they occur, an obvious and essential component in making the shift from disease management to wellness a reality.

Regulatory bodies globally will also need to keep pace with changes in how data is being generated. This should include adopting standards to measure safety and value from new forms of data generated by consumers and from AI systems.

There is no question that this shift from disease management to disease prevention will disrupt business models of nearly all health care delivery and biopharmaceutical companies. However, with that disruption will also come new opportunities to stake out early leadership positions in the health care system of tomorrow, particularly through the formation and funding of creative partnerships with other players.

Critical to identifying those partnerships will be finding opportunities to engage with and identify shared objectives with other organizations that may possess the technological assets and expertise your own organization may lack. To that end, I am excited to be taking part in a forum this week hosted by the EY Innovation Realized and Convergence Lab where leaders from a host of industries will discuss, among other topics, the future of health and well-being and the related opportunities to build an engaged aging strategy.

Following that event will be our Engaged Aging Summit on 11 May in Washington, where we’ll explore the upsides of aging with the goal of identifying approaches with near-term real world impact. Watch the video for more information on #EngagedAging, managing society priorities and our goals for the summit.

This week at the EY Innovation Realized and Convergence Lab, EY will be convening leaders that are at the forefront of disruptive innovation and industry convergence. Join the conversation by following #BetterQuestions and visiting betterworkingworld.ey.com.

On 11 May, the EY Engaged Aging Summit will take attendees on a healthy aging journey to discover opportunities that can be scaled now and in the future. Join our conversation at #EngagedAging.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.