In health and wellness, the trends, leading indicators and historical knowledge all point to compounding challenges on an already incredibly stressed system. Consider medical errors. According to a Johns Hopkins University study published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) in 2016, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die annually from medical errors. Let that wash over you for a moment.
You’ve likely heard the jet liner adage applied to Medicare. In the broader case of total deaths attributed, that is approximately equivalent to two jumbo jets dropping out of the sky every single day. That is not to be hyperbolic, but to frame the magnitude of what these potentially addressable errors cause. I am quite certain if this were a horrific reality in air travel, we would stop flying and start solving – really quickly. But we can’t stop seeking medical care and the growing volume of patients, chronic illness diagnosis, and therapeutic options place significant and undue burden on practitioners at all levels to be right – every – single – time, and with less and less time to do so.
Meanwhile, the velocity of innovation and information is unprecedented. The speed at which medical knowledge is scaling is staggering. Just seven years ago (2010), the doubling of medical knowledge was estimated to happen once every 3.5 years. By 2020, it is projected that the doubling will be reduced to just 73 days. This is wonderful, but not easily applicable. It is humanly impossible to make sense of what matters and to turn the new knowledge into practical changes and benefits for maintaining peak wellness and providing optimal care in sickness.
Connected health solutions using both active and passive data along with advances in machine learning offer a glimmer of hope in reducing errors, increasing speed and accuracy, and making tangible sense of the flood of new information. There are many efforts underway to help doctors diagnose with greater efficiency and to better connect with patients on realistic ways, steeped in behavioral science, to help them to hold up their part of the deal.
A recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Key to Reducing Doctors’ Misdiagnoses,” highlights a few such efforts. Technology is not going to replace doctors, but the hope is it will become an asset in accuracy, speed and scale. The Human Diagnosis Project, created by the global medical community in 2014, combines the collective intelligence of 6,000 doctors from 500 institutions and 40 medical specialties with machine learning to enable more accurate, affordable and accessible care for all.
According to Rock Heath, health solutions of all types saw $3.5 billion in investments in the first half of 2017 alone. Seven deals were valued at more than $100 million. But why so much attention and money?
Simply, health is absolutely the very best problem. We have also seen the technology and receptivity increase, and regulatory pathways open up to essential innovations.
In health, instability is the most stable force and one that demands related industries, businesses, and brands live a cyclical state of defend, differentiate and disrupt. It is cyclical because today’s differentiators are often tomorrow’s price of admission. We don’t look at tapping our phone and having a car show up to take us anywhere we like as disruption in 2017, but we did in 2014. What is seen as a disruption this year is quickly the norm and a bellwether for the new realities of the innovation economy. We are not far from looking at passive diagnosis of conditions which are made by a culmination of sensors, in home devices and our quantified-self data as a standard of care.
Partnerability is rapidly proving to be the new and essential capability, but it does not come without challenges. Health is not only the best problem; it is also immensely complicated and regulated. Because of that, many wait until a challenge becomes untenable to begin seeking partners. This often makes what could be purposeful and crafted, rushed and mess. Some also look at partnerships as vendor-and-buyer instead of symbiotic relationships that are a win for partners, patients and physicians. The proliferation of innovation also causes a race to the shiniest thing. These can be exciting and generate interest, but without rigor often fall short and in turn damage the possibilities of meaningful solutions.
Phillip Dick wrote of a dystopian world of precognition in his 1956 short story “The Minority Report” (yes, the precursor to the 2002 Spielberg film was written in the ‘50s). Three people with cognitive and intuitive gifts who could foresee crimes before they occurred were wired into fantastic machines. In 2017, we have data being generated on millions of people, and with thousands of clinical insights from health practitioners and systems – all wired into fantastic machines capable of predicting illness and optimizing care at an individual basis. Precognition is becoming the pre-clinician, intercepting medical challenges before they are unmanageable, supporting physicians, and enhancing patient outcomes is within our utopian grasp.
It all requires purposeful partnerships between physicians, institutions, patients and technologies, which are essential to sustaining and enhancing health services and outcomes globally. Look closer at The Human Diagnosis Project; it is a purposeful and crafted partnership with a North Star of improving diagnosis – a great example of a win for all.