Emerging economies – countries with the greatest need, largest populations and fewest resources – provide opportunities to rethink healthcare delivery. As we build and expand healthcare networks and infrastructure in emerging nations, we must challenge the norms of how and where care is offered, break with traditional models, and make powerful and meaningful connections among people, technology, services, situations and costs to deliver value over the long term.

Simply put, when constructing healthcare delivery networks for emerging countries, we need to leapfrog established healthcare systems to reach more people, more affordably and with better outcomes, high-quality standards, more transparency and less waste. We must not replicate the onerous healthcare delivery systems found in the developed world.

With entrenched interests and complex infrastructure, developed countries’ healthcare systems invariably wind up focused on cost control, payment, coverage and capacity management. In the end, the quest for better outcomes and higher-quality care becomes an exercise in retrofitting to overcome economic burdens.

Alternatively, a leapfrog approach uses rapid prototyping to solve tough issues such as access, the rising incidence of chronic conditions, geographic dispersion of families, escalating healthcare costs and provider shortages. Leapfrogging circumvents the problems of traditional delivery models by skipping less efficient and resource-intensive capital and labour phases, moving directly to the heart of what’s required. Leapfrogging moves along an accelerated path to the desired end state with cutting-edge solutions, and creates value along the way.

Beyond a technology market alone, leapfrogging includes solutions, human resource capital, data, infrastructure, and payment and delivery systems. It involves professionals, ordinary citizens, organizations and governments to solve complicated issues in new and innovative ways. Take, for example, Imaging the World, the private-public partnership that allows highly accurate ultrasound diagnosis anywhere a mobile phone signal is available. By integrating technology, training and community, Imaging the World is bringing medical expertise to remote and under-served areas. In another example, Asha Jyoti, an inventive, population-based screening programme for breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis, brings mobile clinics to semi-urban and rural areas across northern India. Beyond bringing care to people who otherwise would have none, Asha Jyoti succeeds because it covers practical matters, such as transport for follow-up appointments, and cultural concerns on social stigma via well thought-through community outreach.

There is a receptive climate for innovations that connect people to healthcare providers and other health services in countries where the need is greatest. According to the study, Emerging mHealth: Paths for growth (2012), 59% of patients in emerging markets already use mobile health applications or services (vs 35% in developed markets) The same study cites that doctors in emerging markets are more likely to recommend mobile health solutions to their patients, and payers are more likely to fund them.

We can harness this collective receptiveness to new healthcare delivery models as we employ telehealth – the use of informatics, monitoring, disease management and telecommunications — to oversee the care of patients who may be thousands of kilometres away, in real time. It also is a platform for training health professionals and involving citizens in their own wellbeing and care. With tremendous efficiency and reach, telehealth challenges traditional models for how and where healthcare occurs.

Working through the World Economic Forum, government, academic and industry leaders have the opportunity to leapfrog ahead with innovative, cost-effective and actionable health delivery solutions for emerging countries. We need to work with a sense of urgency to connect people, solutions, places, institutions, services, situations and costs to improve access to care and build more equitable, stable, sustainable healthcare systems for the future.

Author: Deborah DiSanzo is Chief Executive Officer of Philips Healthcare.

Image: An eight-year-old boy is seen at the Cancer and Aids Shelter Society in Kottayam REUTERS.