Even as average life expectancy has increased, there remains a sizeable gap between life span and health span — the years an individual lives without disease. The increase in non-communicable diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis means that, for many, growing old is too often seen as a period of diminishment, not opportunity.
Imagine if the global community focused its efforts on preserving the physical, social and material dimensions that define healthy aging. Aging would still be inevitable, but by shortening the decline that occurs near the end of life, we could maximize the time individuals are physically and mentally vigorous, connected and empowered.
Minimizing this gap between health span and life span could yield obvious, almost universal benefits. With a more vibrant work force, businesses might see productivity gains even as they limit liabilities tied to pensions and retirement payments. Most importantly, individuals would have continued purpose while also retaining their health and financial wellbeing. The so-called “golden years” would be golden indeed.
The healthy aging ideal
A number of forces — technological innovation, improved analytics, behavioral economics and increasing health consumerism — are converging to create new solutions and services that move engaged aging from a theoretical concept to a real business opportunity.
If governments, businesses and individuals want to seize the upside of longevity, we need creative partnerships designed to synchronize the health span with our increased life span. These collaborations must combine leading thinking from the retail, financial and technology industries with the know-how from traditional health and life sciences incumbents and the scale of government organizations.
Globally, we need to come together to invest not only in novel solutions, but also in methodologies that allow these solutions to be tested and deployed rapidly around the globe.
Taking the first step
Given the complexity of current health problems, there won’t be one solution, but many. For the greatest impact, these new collaborations must span public and private entities across a variety of industries, while taking a number of factors into account:
- Understanding of individual risk profiles
- Regional and cultural differences in how healthy aging is defined
- Local variations in health delivery
- Varying levels of infrastructure and other resources
New entrants are finding their way to the aging space, some through concierge health or in-home services. Insurance companies and wealth assessment management groups are already testing pay-as-you-live programs that encourage individuals to invest in a longer life span. Expanding this pay-as-you-live mentality to the other dimensions of aging will be an important step toward addressing physical and cognitive wellness, as well as social connection needs.
The current emphasis on concierge services makes strategic business sense. Today’s regulatory and reimbursement incentives mean those are the models where payment is more likely. To be transformative, these programs must be deployed across populations in ways that are culturally appropriate and best meet local needs.
In addition, it is equally important to make these services available to individuals and families with limited resources. That won’t happen without the scale and financial power of governments, which must have mechanisms to measure the benefits of such collaborations relative to their costs.
Moving to the meta-level
It is time to move to the meta-level, which requires multi-stakeholder engagement across industries. For that to be successful, there must be a shared vision that is broad enough — and flexible enough — to galvanize a diverse group of stakeholders, bridging differences in vocabularies and, ultimately, outcomes.
Absent the trust and good faith that come from a shared vision, stakeholders’ different incentives can create divisions that derail creative partnerships. Unified by a shared vision, different stakeholder groups bring unique skills or resources that create new business opportunities in ways of:
- Innovation and new technology: A variety of digital and genetic technologies have emerged that allow the cost-effective management of diseases of aging. In the future, innovations will move treatment upstream to the pre-disease state.
- Data: Data will be central to proving the value of new innovations. As data from a variety of sources can be gathered, combined and analyzed in new ways, companies can demonstrate to consumers and other payers the value of a particular innovation relative to its costs.
- Capital: In many cases, the most critical resource is the capital that mitigates the financial risks associated with adopting a new technology. Increasingly, investors interested in financing projects with high social impact can play a role in bridging funding gaps.
- Deployment in the marketplace: It is imperative that partners avoid pilot fatigue. Too often, small experiments are not being scaled as organizations get bogged down repeating what’s been done before. As noted above, new solutions will only be transformative if they are deployed broadly.
Partnering for lifelong wellness
Novel, cross-industry partnerships in the healthy longevity space require three main elements to build a solid foundation:
- Healthy aging metrics: To make healthy aging a reality, there must be a commitment to defining optimal health at the individual level, applying the concepts of precision medicine to wellness to create precision health. Doing so requires the development of healthy aging metrics based on genetic and environmental data, as well as individuals’ health goals and decision-making capacity. Pre-competitive consortia that continuously share information — and learn from it — throughout the cycle of care will be critical in advancing the field of precision health.
- Infrastructure investment: The explosion of data, in quantity, type and source, is accelerating, but much of it is walled off. Silos help preserve intellectual property (IP) and improve security. However, they also limit a company’s ability to innovate and engage in creative partnerships. Infrastructure that supports data collection and safe and appropriate IP sharing can bridge gaps between stakeholders who aren’t traditional partners.
- Government involvement: It is essential that governments play a key role in building inclusive ecosystems to promote lifelong wellness. Not only are governments the largest payers in most countries, but they also have the ability to scale successful projects to levels that have real-world impact. In addition, because their time horizons are longer than typical business cycles, governments can invest in initiatives that benefit the common good but won’t yield returns in the next financial quarter.
- Taking the next step: A number of interesting cross-industry collaborations have already emerged in the aging space. Seniors and the chronically ill already take part in a number of high-volume activities such as health care visits and medication adherence that could be improved by solutions jointly developed by technology players and health care providers.
Telecom companies and cable providers, meanwhile, because of their direct access to peoples’ homes, could play a more central role in driving the adoption of connection-focused services, a role they are currently playing in Japan. Other areas where innovative partnerships could play a critical role include holistic medication management and end-of-life care.
With end-of-life care, there is wide variation in the cost and quality of health services. Opportunities abound for the creative bundling of services and new payment models, which could be used to encourage the kind of frank discussions and proactive decision-making that is difficult in today’s fee-for-service environment.