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Why the world needs health care innovation now

This article was originally published at Forbes.

The health care industry can be difficult for innovation. There are a whole host of challenges that make it difficult to drive change — and many who try quickly get discouraged. Some of these challenges result from necessary features of the industry, such as regulation, research and ethical standards. Others — like policy debates, outdated systems and an overwhelming amount of red tape — are problems that need to be solved as soon as possible.

While some of these issues are difficult to resolve quickly, innovators in all corners of the health care industry are working to try and make improvements for patients, practitioners and companies alike. And since health care spending increased by $3.3 trillion in 2016, the opportunities for growth are replete. The following are some of the top reasons that we need health care innovation now.

Faster Development Of Treatments

It takes far too long for new drugs to make it to market. Data from research firm PhRMA identified that it takes 10 years, on average, for a new drug to be available for use. About 60-70% of that time is taken up in clinical trials, but frequently, the remainder is due to outdated regulatory systems.

Fortunately, through the use of technology, we can significantly speed up that process. Sophisticated Artificial Intelligence can increase the effectiveness of researchers, helping them find useful compounds or relevant data that might have been too difficult to find without contextual search features. Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to appreciate the powerful ways in which Artificial Intelligence can augment drug research and development. For example, Genentech and GNS Healthcare announced a partnership last year aimed at using Artificial Intelligence technology to analyze massive amounts of cancer patient data in order to identify novel cancer therapies.

Additionally, cloud platforms can help digitize many of the regulatory processes that are still on paper. Some people have even argued that the development process itself should be more customizable and that current FDA regulations are too one-size-fits-all for certain treatments.

Increased Access To Care

Health care systems are different all around the world, and unfortunately, in many regions, it can be difficult to connect people with care. Access is frequently tied to economic status. A CDC report detailed that in the U.S., over 23% of near-poor adults ages 18-64 don’t have access to health insurance, and that number rises to 26% within the poor category. This isn’t just a challenge in the U.S., either — even in countries with universal insurance, access to care can be limited by geography. Smaller communities may not be able to find the services they need locally.

There are quite a few ways for us to solve some of these problems outside of policy, with digital health solutions being one of the most promising options. Numerous innovations in the digital health sector are giving non-traditional access to medicine for many of these communities. One such innovation is the Extension for Community Health Outcomes(ECHO) network, which uses teleconferencing and other digital technologies to increase access to primary-care physicians for underserved populations. Telehealth providers give the uninsured options for medical advice, which can help them determine whether or not they should seek more advanced care. The Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System in Arkansas, for example, uses telehealth technology to connect rural patients with specialists at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.

Disruptive boutique clinics are also targeting commonly uninsured groups by offering limited services on a subscription pricing model. An increase in affordable alternatives to traditional care can increase access in substantial ways, which could lead to generally healthier communities.

Improving The Business Of Health Care

While policy debates keep health care in the news, what frequently isn’t discussed is how challenging it is to do business in the industry. Regulations and insurance costs represent a significant barrier to entry, meaning that many of the innovative entrepreneurs with ideas to improve the state of health care may not be able to bring their solutions to market.

Any companies supporting the industry should identify technologies and processes that can improve profitability. For example, Artificial Intelligence solutions to help pharma companies better forecast drug performance or blockchain solutions that support smart contracts. Technology that enhances existing processes or shortens the time it takes to discover new treatments could help make health care companies more profitable, which in turn will free up capital for innovation and growth.

Whether publicly or privately managed, health care companies need to have capital and spend wisely to help serve as many patients as possible. Reducing costs and preventing errors can help make these companies or government entities more profitable.
With people’s health at stake, there’s no excuse for complacency in health care and related fields. We all have a shared responsibility to drive positive change and create innovative solutions to the systemic problems holding the industry back. We can achieve that change by working together to deliver better care, faster results and a stronger market.

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