Imagine viewing health care from space

Instead of driving on the highway, let’s imagine you drove upwards from wherever you are. You’ll reach space in about an hour.

On your way up, you’ll begin to see everything differently. Cities, roads, and trees slowly blur out to make way for a new kind of reality. Converging. Diverging. Both at the same time.

What appears dissimilar on the ground (trees and shrubs) will appear similar (green). What unites on the ground (mountains and rivers of a country) will appear cleanly fragmented (land and water).

Observing health care from space. Now play the game with health care.

When you zoom out, you’ll see the industry differently. You’ll see it in tandem with other changes that are changing it.

You’ll see how quickly it’s changing. And where. You might even discover why.

View #1: a smaller, similar, consolidated world

According to Forbes, 715 private equity deals created a value of $103.72 billion in 2018. It’s a new record for health care. One big driver for this frenzied deal-making is targeted consolidation. Private equity is zooming out to connect disparate dots to create newer, larger formations. They are creating a forest out of the trees.

I’m seeing this unfold live in the space that we largely serve (gastroenterology).

View #2: unrelenting, unstoppable changes driven by technology

If your job hasn’t been touched by AI, it’ll surely soon be. Many millions in health care will be displaced, especially those dealing with routine, repeatable, pattern-oriented work. Not just transactional activities like billing but also medicine itself.

In 2018, FDA-approved watches began reading EKGs and using that data to detect conditions such as hyperkalemia (high potassium). In the future, algorithms would allow “self-driving” in procedures such as colonoscopy.

View #3: societal aspirations of living healthier, stronger, sexier and longer

What we want out of our bodies is no secret. If we are sick, we want to be healthy. If we are healthy, we want to be strong. If we are healthy and strong, we want to be sexy. If we are healthy, strong and sexy, we want our bodies to last forever.

Biotechnology research is keen to make these desires possible. In 2018, a Chinese scientist claimed he had produced the world’s first CRISPR babies (gene-edited ones).

View #4: data dominance

Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft have all made big health care moves in 2018. Amazon bought an online pharmacy called PillPack, launched its own health care venture and created a medical AI cloud service. Apple created an app to detect irregular heartbeats. By tinkering body’s information, Google plans on extending life.

You’d note that all of them are data-hungry, technology Goliaths. With data, they will learn how to do health care even better by connecting disparate dots (e.g., Alexa detecting that you have a cold, Amazon suggesting cold meds).

Let’s connect the dots.

When you connect these dots, you’ll observe some straightforward maps.

1. The health care industry will consolidate, corporatize and be more and more unified.

2. Reliance on data and technology will limit us from functioning outside the grid. No more doctors without computers or computers without doctors.

3. The industry will go through many phases of frustration and confusion before the dust settles. And then it’ll disrupt all over again because of further advancements.

4. The scope of health care will range widely. From fixing sickness to designing babies.

5. Our health care decisions will be guided (and possibly manipulated) by countless algorithms and people who control them.

What do we do?

At some point this year, I realized that we are in the middle of a massive wave. And there’s no stopping it. Health care is changing for good.

No one can tell us where this wave will take us. So, what do we do?

Instead of worrying about the wave or trying to escape it, we must choose to shape what’s to follow. Not with newer technological widgets. But with our moral and ethical compasses. That we are already genetically blessed with.

Praveen Suthrum is president and co-founder, NextServices and blogs at redo | healthcare.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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