Why Innovation in the Health Care Industry Is Difficult

Saturday, August 27, 2016, 6:00 AM | Leave Comment

Across the world, healthcare and its related industries are emerging as the new frontiers of innovation.

Traditional models of healthcare delivery have been upended with the emergence of cutting-edge technologies that range from IoT-driven patient care to medical applications for 3D printing.

According to data released by the World Bank, healthcare expenditure accounted for up to10 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014.

And this does not just include the usual roll call of candidates from developed economies.

Economies from OECD countries have averaged a growing healthcare expenditure rate of 12.4 percent from 1995 to 2014.

In the US, healthcare is a thriving industry with an annual spending of $3 trillion every year. In fact by 2018, it will represent approximately 18 percent of the country’s GDP.

However, emerging economies of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America have actively absorbednew medical innovationsand are in the process of expanding their healthcare sector.

These economies represent large swathes of the world’s population that will become wirelessly connected over the next five years. The figure hovers somewhere around 3 to 5 billion people.

Entrepreneurs like Peter Diamandis have labelled these upcoming consumers as ‘the rising billion’ and they are expected to be active participants in the 21st century healthcare ecosystem.

  • New Technologies, New Applications

    Inventors are constantly involved in the process of trying to find new solutions for old healthcare problems. For instance, reused medical needles have represented a great threat to public health in many countries – the rapid spread infectious diseases.

    In response to this, Marc Kosa has created an effective solution, a syringe that will break after one use.

    Similarly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been deeply involved in making public and private sanitation an easily attainable goal across several countries.

    At the same time, entrepreneurs have also been leveraging transformative technologies to create people-friendly innovations with a broad impact.

    At the same time, consumers have begun to demand customized solutions for their needs, and this is being reflected in the healthcare sector as well.

    The Maker Movement, the underlying factor that propels the DIY economy, is gradually making inroads into healthcare with the growth of 3D printing, innovations in material science and the widespread application of virtual reality (VR).

    In fact, with the involvement of leaders like Stratasys, 3D printing is coming to have a significant impact on organ and tissue repair.

    Similarly, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic surgery, wireless wearablesand nearables are also playing a significant role in revitalizing business models and patient-care-giver relationships in healthcare.

    It would seem as if post-millennial technological solutions are gradually providing all the answers to the world’s pressing healthcare concerns, but this has not necessarily made medical care either affordable or accessible to all.

  • The Contradictions of Healthcare Spend

    As mentioned before investment in healthcare saw an uptick in 2014, but that statistic hid a sluggish rate of growth.

    According to recent studies and forecasts, public expenditure in healthcare, especially in developed economies, saw a dip the following year in 2015.

    This trend has not yet stabilized and it being predicted that over the next four years investment in healthcare will again register an increase, however the rate of growth will be slower than during the financial crisis of 2009.

    The situation is kaleidoscopic and different realities are mirrored indifferent parts of the globe.

    • Brazil, a BRIC economy, has been in the economic doldrums for a while. On the whole, Brazil lacks a sufficient healthcare structure.

      When factors like rising taxes, political instability, decreasing consumer confidence and looming fiscal austerity measures are added to the mix, the future of public healthcare can be called into question.

      However, there has been a parallel upswing in the private healthcare sector and employer-subsidized private health insurance.

    • The Canadian healthcare system on the other hand, is one that seemingly inspires envy across the world.

      However, a recent report showed that it too faced its own unique challenges. While innovations in the domain are many, funding and accountability mechanisms are fragmented.

      At the same time, patients are demanding a greater transparency in the system, and the opportunity to participate more actively in their own care.

    • India, too, is a case study in contradictions. Even as one of the rapidly emerging economies, India is home to 35 percent of the world’s impoverished population.

      Innovation in healthcare is mainly driven by private players, while public expenditure has yet to catch up.

      Various insurance players have emerged and one like PolicyBazaar can be compared to America’s ehealthinsurance, where people come and compare insurance to buy.

      In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the central government reduced healthcare spending while increasing state level participation.

      Access, service value as opposed to service volume, affordability and resource utilization are some of the key factors that are playing a role in the growth of new business models and supporting the growth of a thriving health care sector.

    From these few examples it is evident that not only are healthcare systems fragmented and varied across different countries and regions, but even within an economy has to contend with a laundry list of hurdles and regulations.

  • The Evolving Face of Healthcare Innovation

    It is always the norm that new areas of innovation will always attract a slew of investors and startups. And so it is with healthcare.

    Recent reports state that we are currently in the second phase of digital innovation in healthcare, and now more than ever startups have begun to flood this sector. As a result, a lot of new developments in healthcare are actually turning out to be redundant.

    Consumer behavior is also playing a large part in changing the landscape of healthcare innovation.

    Not only have their expectations from products and services increased, but they are demanding a greater stake in the healthcare experience. As a result, they are now beginning to gain access to a mix of health plans and benefits.

    Emerging economies are also coming to the fore as incubators of new and engaging trends even as they remain some of the most under-served segments in the healthcare arena.

    Many are calling this a leapfrog opportunity for innovation, the fact that the answers to hi-tech medical questions have surprisingly low tech answers.

    In fact, leapfrog innovations can also provide an answer to the current scenario of expensive and inaccessible patient monitoring. As a result, it should become inexpensive enough to be affordable and accessible in place where it has not even been conceived of.

    In fact, according to one of the reports quoted above, while healthcare investments are progressing in fits and starts in many areas of the world, some of the places where there seems to be a steady growth in investments happens to be the emerging economies.

Healthcare is not a monolithic space. Therefore, innovations are not uniform and cannot have blanket applications.

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