So, what can we achieve within the health care field? During the second half of the 20th century, the developed world achieved colossal advances in medical innovation focused around two distinct science streams.
On the one hand, pharmaceutical chemistry and related disciplines spawned important new therapeutics, developed by a high-performing pharma industry. On the other, medical devices and instrumentation advanced through precision engineering and material sciences.
Together, alongside improved education and living conditions, these innovations have saved, improved, and extended the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The danger now is that the success locks us into thinking that the same model will serve us as well in this century.
The most obvious limitation of 20th century healthcare is that it was directed at first-world markets and diseases. Despite having only 4% of the worlds population, the U.S. accounts for over 50% of the worlds health care market, and has a pivotal role in determining the prioritization of pharmaceutical research.
Tropical and niche orphan diseases have been largely neglected. I dont criticize the pharmaceutical industry for thisif only every industry were as successful in delivering what its customers want. But, I do question whether the shortcomings we face in healthcare are actually the sign of an incomplete and immature model? I think they are, not just industrially, but geographically, socially, and scientifically.
A new equation has arisen at the end of the twentieth century:
Longer life x multiple chronic co-morbidities x increased expectations = great pressure on healthcare resources.
These factors have also led to the perception, in the minds of major funders, that healthcare is one of societys greatest liabilities, whereas our health should be regarded and nurtured as our greatest asset, an undeniable dividend from a knowledge-based society.
Today, almost all our healthcare resources are focused on the treatment of post-symptomatic illness. Our model is based on allowing ourselves, through life-style, environment, latent genetic pre-disposition, or simple ignorance to develop serious disease.
The more sophisticated the economy, the more patients have access to intensive investment to optimize late-stage treatment outcomes. But, this arises at a time when the treatment options are narrower, costlier, and a successful outcome is less likely.