Healthcare is caught in a slow-motion collision between two 21st Century realities. The world’s growing and aging population creates ever-greater needs for treatment. At the same time, limited resources constrict the availability of quality care.
Perhaps half the people who die each day – more in poor areas – suffer from diseases that are preventable or curable. While medical advances do help patients live longer, the costs of care are rising. And even as science discovers new mechanisms of disease, medicine relies too much on trial and error.
The good news is, solutions are at hand to improve the health of the world’s 7 billion people. We can transform healthcare systems to care for patients in more sustained and cost-effective ways.
Here are five strategic approaches:
Focus on prevention. The virtual eradication of diseases like measles and polio through immunization is one of the great success stories of the last century. Now, we need vigorous global commitment to screening and vaccination to prevent equally threatening diseases. Also, cultural changes in diet, exercise and environmental exposures hold the potential to vastly improve wellness – or degrade people’s health.
Translate science into clinical value. Pharmaceutical and biomedical firms have always focused on translating science into commercially available treatments. Now the pace of discovery is pouring forth genomic insights, biotechnologies and new molecules in abundance. Companies, universities, public health and healthcare providers must all collaborate in translational research for the benefit of patients.
Personalize treatments. Trial and error has been surprisingly common. Usually the first line of treatment for a disease is the drug that works for the most patients. If that fails, the patient gets a different drug, then another, and so on. Now the genomic revolution and the costs of chronic diseases make it possible and desirable to use individual data to guide treatments. Personalized healthcare reduces costs and saves lives.
Keep investing in research. The economic malaise has brought “austerity” to the lips of leaders around the world. Many R&D groups already are finding ways to manage projects and laboratories more efficiently. But we must sustain funding for research – investing in the world’s future health.
Address distribution problems. Beyond resource limitations in the aggregate, many developing nations lack basic infrastructure for delivering care, and even in wealthier nations the poor may lack access. Global healthcare distribution must be a compelling focus for governments, NGOs and businesses.
No, these are not easy solutions. The World Economic Forum has made Health for All a priority because it’s a classic challenge of limited resources vs. vast demands. But we do want to live in a healthier world. What do you see as the most promising strategies?
Peer M. Schatz, Chief Executive Officer of QIAGEN, has spearheaded the company’s strategic focus on sample and assay technologies and efforts to bring these technologies to customers in molecular diagnostics, applied testing, academia and the pharmaceutical industry.
Pictured: A girl receives a drop of polio vaccine at a health center in Sanaa January 9, 2012. Health agencies in Yemen on Monday began a nationwide campaign to vaccinate more than four million children under five years old against polio. REUTERS/Khaled Abdulah