Inside and out – the next revolution in healthcare?

Some might say that no other immune system is as strong as the healthcare industry’s immunity to innovation and new ideas.

Perhaps the world can learn an unfortunate lesson from American healthcare where some say that it is not end consumers but insurance companies and employers that decide what kinds of care will be paid for. Then, in a bid to outdo each other, the physician practices as well as large hospitals differentiate by adding new surgical wings or diagnostic gear.

Disruption through technology has demonstrated its potential to improve healthcare with simple primary-care strategies. However, while innovations/new technologies have been raising accessibility and bringing down costs in virtually every other industry from retail to finance, healthcare (particularly in the U.S) just seems to keep getting more and more expensive and further removed from the people that need it the most.

New entrants into the highly regulated ecosystems of the medical industry are focusing on empowering consumers. At the same time, the public waits with bated breath to see whether costs will be brought down and the power will be returned back into the hands of the people, especially the impoverished or those in remote locations.

Is there any real means of suitably altering the way healthcare works in relation to consumers or is the whole system just shot?

With all this talk of innovation in medicine and healthcare, one can’t help but wonder what that would mean to a population of nearly 100,000 people on 93 inhabited islands?

“When we think of digital health, it’s about projects and services that are being delivered in remote and rural communities.”, James Cameron, head of health and life sciences at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) explains.

Attempts at borders being crossed in the field of medicine are being made by CorporateHealth International and a capsule endoscopy which has been used in Ullapool and Broadford.

Instead of going to a hospital for an endoscopy, a patient can swallow a camera in a pill at home. Combining innovations that seek to reach patients in far away places with treatments that make use of natural elements found in the human body itself could possibly make an impact if the cost factor is controlled.

When it comes to gene therapy (which introduces new genetic material into a person’s DNA), rare syndromes were purported to be targeted however, drug companies have attached massive prices to narrowly targeted treatments.

Herman Sanchez, managing partner at life science consulting firm Trinity Partners, says that “The smallest diseases have more pricing power in the marketplace,” and adds that “That’s usually due to the fact that payers don’t have to deal with a lot of patients.”

Using a modified version of the HIV virus, doctors have managed to remove healthy cells from a cancer patient and modify them into ‘hunter cells’ which can search for and destroy cancerous cells. After infusing the cells back into the patient’s body, every major organ stopped functioning properly but once doctors (with the help of the patient) managed to understand and address the side effects, the patient was cancer free in just a few weeks!

Modifying cells, gene therapy and hormone therapy such as those provided by Kingsberg Medical are all cutting-edge medical innovations that adapt the stuff that’s naturally found in your body to combat medical issues.

With such startling results, companies, insurers and healthcare providers must work together with innovators and law-makers in order to spark the next revolution in the field of medicine.

The issue of bringing down costs, especially for treatments like gene therapy is hotly debated especially since some of these ‘miracle treatments’ have the potential to cure intractable diseases with just one treatment and should be made available to everyone (not just a select or wealthy few).

Case in point is the drug made by Spark Therapeutics Inc. which can reportedly restore some semblance of sight to the blind. The company caused some feathers to be ruffled by suggesting such a high price may be justified. Dutch firm UniQure NV charged a whopping price tag of around $1 million for the gene therapy they developed for an extremely rare disease.

Of the more than $200 billion poured into health care venture capital, a large amount goes to devices, pharma and biotech all of which (ironically) only make healthcare more expensive (albeit more sophisticated).

Perhaps the right kind of disruption/innovation can be found in a more intuitive/creative and yes, human-centric approach. Creativity is after all, one of the hallmarks of innovation.

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