Digital clones of real-life medical experts that give personalized advice and support on a vast range of medical issues around the globe — does it sound far-fetched? Not at all.
Medical avatars that look and sound like your own doctor are under development at the
University of Southern California. Virtual reality technology and artificial intelligence come together as an interactive and responsive virtual physician — one that maximizes quality time spent with you, in partnership with your regular physician or health professional.
Now is not the time to be thinking about how health care might benefit from digital technologies — that time has long passed. In fact, the important conversation around the future of health care is not about shifting to digital at all. It is about people.
The real force for change in health care is patient-mediated — the power of the patient or consumer to engage and participate. A new health care ecosystem is arising from convergence between traditional and nontraditional players that blends health care expertise with network and platform capabilities. New pathways of health and wellness arise at the interface between the consumer and the system that transform the industry into one that is online, networked and participatory.
Breaking out of old models requires a new way of thinking
To change course, many things need to be in place, and where the stimulus for health system transformation will arise — whether through consumers, government, private sector or public-private partnerships — is not yet evident.
The health industry is often noted as slow to adopt technological change. Consumers are more agile, and many already take advantage of changes in information flows as the internet and social networks become trusted sources of information and personal support. Conditions exist to benefit from the best of what technology can offer — a mass market enabled by mobility, enhanced 4G/forthcoming 5G telecommunications and cloud storage underpinned by integrative platforms.
Creating a cadence for change
The digital revolution in health care offers untold opportunities to deliver care and connect with consumers in unique ways. We have sought to understand the changes necessary to embed a participatory ecosystem within the core business of health care — something that we believe is inevitable as technologies mature, disruptive solutions succeed and health systems become participatory:
- Gaining public and clinician trust, particularly around the safety, validity and integrity of devices is of the utmost importance. Gaining and sustaining consumer engagement is also critical.
- Industry transformation will need to be built upon innovations that truly make health care simpler and seamless.
- Disruptive technology-based responses that drive patient engagement, deliver population health outcomes and deal with the burning issue of costs are paramount.
- Concerns around purpose and payment were voiced, especially how to benefit from the opportunities afforded by participatory care and avoid increasing health inequities.
- Data fusion ecosystems that capture and make sense of massive data flows and platforms that glue the multi-pieced jigsaw-like health care system together are vital.
- Shifts in industry culture and in how we conceive and think about health and wellness in a globalizing and interconnected environment is also important.
- Geopolitical differences and the absence of expensive infrastructure may well see emerging/developing economies take advantage of advanced technologies and promising platforms to leapfrog into a participatory health care model.
Health care will need to reconfigure to reach its digital potential. To avoid being on the wrong side of an emerging and disruptive trend, health industry players need to recognize that preserving the status quo is no longer an option. It is timely to be bold.
Some will lead and others follow, but in a forward-leaning world, three things to consider are:
- Consumerism and technological change are the twin dynamics of disruption in health care: Maturing health care consumerism and changing technologies are a powerful combination. Leveraging the power of the crowd through technology will likely be an effective force for change. Changes in consumer expectations and new patterns in consumer behavior will arise from and be shaped by such networks and platforms and will ultimately be a key lever pushing the health system to adapt.
- Convergence between science, social, technology and industry demands a rethink of business models: Convergence opens the doors to new opportunities. A shift in mindset requires core capabilities in partnering to operate and thrive in the new environment of partnerships, alliances, new locations and consumerist orientation and identifying innovative ways to capture value. A new ecosystem brings a new set of players with opportunity to leverage expertise in adjacent spaces such as financial services, manufacturing and insurance.
- When system-ready, health care will deliver affordable, accessible total health: Future success depends on the system readiness of the health industry. In the future state, individuals will access care regardless of geography through tele-connected services, and the core business of health care will be anchored around virtual delivery, consumer engagement, and an integrative and long-term orientation.