On January 17, Health Ministers from OECD countries will gather in Paris to discuss how healthcare systems can reform to better deal with the challenges and to realize the opportunities of tomorrow. Important milestones are on the agenda including how to tackle ineffective spending in healthcare and how health care systems should adapt to new technologies.
The challenges: an ageing population and the growing burden of chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Thanks to improvements in living conditions, socio-economic development and medical progress, we live longer than ever before. This is fundamentally a great achievement. However, as people get older, they often live with several chronic diseases at once. Healthcare systems face a dilemma of growing demand and the need to invest for the future, while budgets have been flat or declining following the global financial crisis.The opportunities: a rapid development of science and technology, including in biomedicine, biotechnology, genomics, and nanotechnology. We are breaking new ground in ways never seen before. For example, new gene editing techniques and stem cell therapies allow us for the first time to target the root-cause of many diseases. At the same time, we are in the midst of a rapid digitalization in healthcare, including the advent of big data analytics. We are creating the tools that can truly transform how we combat disease, how we deliver healthcare, and how patients manage their own health.However, sometimes these opportunities are also perceived as threats. Indeed, new technology can be disruptive. It can change the treatment paradigm for major diseases. It can make old technologies and skills obsolete. It can change the relationship between patients and their physicians. It requires funding decisions that often include tough trade-offs. And it may require new ways of paying for healthcare that don’t fit with the current system.A case in point are the new cell- and gene-therapies that are examples of the cutting edge of current innovation in medicine. By repairing defective genes, or by replacing malfunctioning cells, we might be able to treat diseases such as diabetes, blood cancers, and rare genetic disorders in a much more effective way than today. Perhaps, we will be able to provide cures. But there are challenges. Today, healthcare systems incur the cost for these patients over time – sometimes over the entire lifetime of the patient. Moving to financing a single high-cost intervention upfront can be a problem for healthcare budget holders, even if the intervention creates a long-lasting benefit and savings down the line.The challenges that arise when new technology causes disruption in established systems are significant and must be addressed. However, when innovation is perceived more as a threat than an opportunity, we have a problem. The answer should never be to reject scientific progress. Instead, we must work together to develop new approaches for realizing the full potential of new technologies.
In this context, three points are particularly important:
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