Health and healthcare in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Global Future Council on the Future of Health and Healthcare 2016-2018

Industry 4.0 Big data Fourth Industrial Revolution Artificial Intelligence (AI) Medical technology Telehealth Health

The World Economic Forum Global Future Council (GFC) on the Future of Health and Healthcare comprises expert stakeholders representing the public and private healthcare sectors. For the 2016-2018 mandate, members of the GFC worked together to provide insights on how the evolution of global health and healthcare will affect us all in the decades to come, including through the implementation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is now well recognized that the misalignment of all stakeholders resides at the core of health sector underperformance. This is largely due to narrow competing objectives (silos versus different incentives), power asymmetries (North versus South, advanced versus emerging economies) and cooperation failures among other things. However, these challenges will have to be addressed collectively as health- and healthcare-related issues have become some of the most prominent preoccupations for people across the globe and generations.

First and foremost is the pressing issue of seeking sustainability: from our ageing demographics (by 2050, one fifth of the global population will be over 60 and two thirds of babies born today could live to 100) to the increasing burden of noncommunicable chronic diseases (NCDs), which already represent 75% of healthcare expenses, while the rising cost of healthcare will contribute to an overall direct and indirect loss of $47 trillion for the world’s gross domestic product by 2030.

Second, the acceleration of science and discovery with, for example, the cost of genome sequencing falling below $1,000, and over 100,000 new drugs in the pipeline, some of which have already had a profound impact in developing cures, particularly in cancer, but are increasingly associated with unaffordable costs. For example, recent approved cell therapy costs well over $1 million for one treatment for a single patient.

Third, the progress in technology spanning the digitalization of health and healthcare to social media, internet of things (IoT), wearables, sensors, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), nanotechnology, robotics and 3D printing, which together will radically transform society, increasing interconnectivity and breaking the structures of healthcare systems.

The 2016-2018 Global Future Council on the Future of Health and Healthcare examined how these advances in discovery and clinical sciences, data science and technology and their convergence are paving the way for exciting new developments. Specific examples of breakthroughs include genetic engineering – especially genome editing – regenerative biology and medicine, tissue engineering, cancer genomics and immunotherapy, precision medicine, microbiome, optical imaging, optogenetics and brain machine interface technology. In addition, the surge of data science with big data analytics, digital technologies and AI will have a transformative impact on health and medicine. If the aforementioned achieve their potential, we will see transformative effects across all aspects of health and healthcare.

Indeed, certain advances will go beyond transforming disease treatment and prevention; they will effectively offer a cure for some diseases. For example, gene-editing technologies have the potential to cure genetic diseases, such as sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis. Germline editing has the potential to cure diseases with permanent intergenerational changes, while somatic genome editing can treat, control and possibly cure acquired diseases.

Advances in precision medicine can guide healthcare decisions towards the most effective treatment for a given patient or subset of patients. Furthermore, precision medicine holds great promise for prevention and public health, particularly by identifying predisposed or high-risk patients for specific conditions and diseases that could be readily prevented with early detection, appropriate screening or through lifestyles changes.

Though healthcare is somewhat behind when it comes to big data compared with other sectors or industries, it certainly is catching up with massive information generated. Healthcare data captured in real-time can generate new knowledge and evidence to better understand patterns of health and disease. The access to real-world evidence will play a critical role in the development of a system in which, “science, informatics, incentives and culture are aligned for continuous improvement and innovation, with best practices seamlessly embedded in the delivery process and new knowledge captured as an integral by-product of the delivery experience”.

The integration of big data, analytics, new technology and connectivity inside and outside clinical encounters, coupled with payer activity and cost, pharmaceutical and medical products R&D data, and patient behaviour, will help us better predict the outcome of diseases as well as drivers of health, including social determinants which are often underappreciated.

In the future, two fundamental shifts will reshape the healthcare industry. First, healthcare will be delivered as a seamless continuum of care, away from the clinic-centred point of care model and with a greater focus on prevention and early intervention. Second, health and healthcare delivery will focus on each person within their own ecosystem, with a greater impact from people or patients themselves, often referred to as the consumerization of healthcare.

Telehealth technologies will enable patients to send personal information to providers who can remotely diagnose health problems; IoT and other technologies will enable real-time monitoring; and technologies such as apps and wearables will help promote healthy behaviours and enable sustained behaviour modification. Finally, AI is likely to transform all areas of health and medicine towards clinical decision-making.

Across systems, the integration of these approaches will serve as a foundation for value-based care approaches and value-based payment models, focusing on improving individual outcome while optimizing the cost of care per patient. Improving care outcome through rationalization at the point of care will help reduce redundancies and waste, estimated at up to a third of the current total spend for healthcare. This will improve outcome and efficiency of healthcare delivery, while controlling costs and keeping innovation at the centre of future health and healthcare enterprise.

Despite the mounting challenges facing health and healthcare delivery, our council was able to provide promising insights and perspectives, thanks to all its members’ collective expertise. The combined advances in discovery and clinical sciences, data science and technology and their convergence through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, are paving the way for unprecedented changes, which will profoundly transform health and healthcare to become much more connected, efficient, preemptive, precise, democratized and affordable. Not only will this improve the health of individuals, it will also reduce imbalances across geographies while boosting economies and spurring employment, a key factor in the wellness and health of society.

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