By MIKE MAGEE
Few can disagree that, in the fog of the Covid 19 pandemic, health technology entrepreneurs have been on a tear. In the first year of Covid’s isolation induced new reality, digital health companies experienced a $ 21.6 billion investment boost, double that of the prior year, and four times 2016 funding.
By year two, the investment community exhibited some signs of self-restraint by raising a few open ended questions. For example, in early 2021, Deloitte & Touche led a Future of Health panel at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference, reporting that “panelists suggested that entrepreneurs need to go beyond products that simply improve processes or solve existing problems.”
Panelists predicted that virtual health delivery services will expand; consumers will demand greater involvement including expansion of home diagnostics; and investment driven mergers and acquistions will explode – all of which has proven to be true.
Adding push to shove, Deloitte added this final nudge: “Entrepreneurs who define new markets, dominate them with a strategy people can understand, and extract value will likely be the most successful.”
Forty years ago, in the early beginnings of Health Tech, words similar to those above triggered cautionary tones from traditionalists. For example, Dr. John A. Benson, Jr., then President of the Board of Internal Medicine, stated “There is a groundswell in American medicine, this desire to encourage more ethical and humanistic concerns in physicians. After the technological progress that medicine made in the 60’s and 70’s, this is a swing of the pendulum back to the fact that we are doctors, and that we can do a lot better than we are doing now.”
He accurately described the mood then, and for most of the 20th century, of academic clinicians toward technology, a complex love-hate relationship that has rejoiced and cheered on progress, while struggling to accept and master change in a manner that would avoid driving a wedge between academicians, clinicians and patients.
In the lead up to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, the National Commission on Quality Long Term Care attempted to bridge that gap.
As the chair of their technology sub-committee, I wrote the report, “Fully Leveraging Technology to Transform Health Care.” I asked then, “How might technology be applied to re-engineer homes for health and assure maximum connectivity to support aging citizens as part of the multigenerational family, the community and a preventive oriented health delivery system?”
This insight, that the technology should not be limited only to fourth and fifth generation Americans, but rather, in an integral way, be applied to assist as well the three generations below them – their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – reinforces the concept of technology applications as both assistive and transformational.
Such a vision focuses on healthy bodies and health minds. It assists memory as well as mobility. It harnesses software and hardware to not only improve individual quality of life, but to also advantage family, community and societal goals.
Independence also implies responsibility centered on individuals and their networks of support including family, friends and caring professionals. As citizens we have differing capabilities and needs, and these change as we age. We must help each other. But to do so efficiently, we must advantage virtual connectivity and a full range of technologic applications that unlock our fullest individual and collective human potential.7
The revolutionary strength of modern information and scientific technologies is that “they ignore geography.” In so doing they allow us to reorient and connect beyond the limits of a range of barriers whether they be physical, social, financial or political. The danger is not in over-reaching but in under-reaching.
Where are the “killer applications” that would allow lifespan planning to move us ahead of the disease curve? How can we target technologic advances in health to first reach our citizens most at risk? How do we, in powering the health technology revolution, broaden our social contract to include universal health insurance? How do we unite the technology, entertainment, and financial sectors (previously locked out of the health care space) with the traditional health care power players, and incentivize them to work together to create a truly preventive and holistic health delivery system that is equitable, just, efficient, and uniformly reliable? How can each citizen play a role in ongoing research and innovation, and help define lifelong learning and behavioral modification as part of good citizenship? What can corporate America do to advance health in the broadest sense of the word, and in “doing good,” do well financially, serving Main Street as it serves Wall Street?
Technologies can enable, operate, connect, instruct and assist. But to do so logically and efficiently they must conform to a vision that is both generalizable and customizable. Technology offers the flexibility and fluidity to pursue health, independence, mobility, financial security, social engagement and cognition in hundreds of thousands of uniquely different environments simultaneously, while also pursuing a single unified and collectively committed vision for our nation.
In 2005, I wrote, “Technology has the power to assist us in healing, providing health and keeping our nation and global family whole. But it’s capacity to deliver on this promise is dependent on a vision for health that is both broad and inclusive.”
In 2021, academic medical leaders and health technology investors may find common ground in asking the question, “How does my support for this proposed technology project make America and all Americans healthy?”
Mike Magee, MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist and author of “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.“
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