Trend: Confronting the global health care crisis

Category under: Blog, Global economy, Health Care

In just a few weeks, I’ll be the opening keynote speaker for the 2011 World Pharma Innovation Congress in London –one of the most exclusive and prestigious events in the world, focused on future trends involving health care and the pharmaceutical industry.

My job? I’m there to challenge the audience, many of whom are global leaders in the field, to think big in terms of the scope of the challenge that is on the horizon — but also to think big in terms of the potential innovations that could help deal what is coming.

This is a topic I’ve covered in depth previously; for example, earlier this summer, I spoke to senior executives for a global health care company at their summit in Munich, Germany.

At that event I covered the challenges in depth. First, the good news: in the industrialized world, a good proportion of the global population is going to live longer:

  • “German-based demographer James Vaupel estimates that the average baby girl born now in Western societies will live to be 100. Many of today’s baby boys, he says, will also live to be 100.” Sydney Morning Herald, January 8, 2011

Contrast that fact though, with the the long term reality for much of the Western world:

  • stagnating populations  and shrinking workforces
  • steadily increasing pension-focused populations as Western society generally ages
  • growing social spending commitments related to pensions for this generation
  • plus a massive ramp-up in health care demand — driven by aging and lifestyle based disease

It’s the lifestyle disease that provides the biggest challenge in terms of scope: according to the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, “1.6 billion adults are overweight or obese worldwide and over 50 per cent of adults in the US and Europe fit into this category.”

That’s a pretty “big” problem, if you pardon the pun. Consider the trends, using diabetes as an example:

  • “The number of adults with diabetes worldwide has more than doubled since 1980 to 347 million, a far larger number than previously thought and one that suggests costs of treating the disease will also balloon.” Global diabetes epidemic balloons to 350 million, Reuters Health E-Line, June 27, 2011

(It’s interesting to note though, that the challenge with lifestyle disease isn’t restricted to the Western world; the statin (cholesterol) drug market in China, India other “BRIC”countries is set to grow at rates of up to 25% compounded per year. In other words, developing nations are soon to see the same lifestyle diseases which are currently sweeping through North America and Europe.)

The potential impact of the problem is massive in scope:

  • “If policies do not change, six European countries— Belgium, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Ukraine—will be devoting more than 30% of GDP to age-related spending by 2050.” “Old age tension,” Economist Magazine, Oct 2010

What makes the challenge difficult is that there is an ever-decreasing workforce that will be there to fund increased health care spending:

  • the ratio of workers to retirees in the Western world is about 5.2 to 1 now
  • in some countries, this will drop to 2.6 to 1 within a decade
  • the immigration outflow in some countries (i.e. Ireland) exaberates the problem

There is a similar challenge in scope with age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia:

  • the number of patients with dementia / Alzheimer’s set to double to 66 million by 2030 – and to 115 million by 2050!
  • that will require an estimated $604 billion a year in treatment — it’s set to triple by 2050!
  • that means spending here will go from 1% of global GDP today, to 3% of global GDP by 2050

Of course, this is where the opportunity for big scope innovative thinking comes in — as I outline in all of my work, “Some people see a trend and see a threat. Others see opportunity!”

For years, I have been relentless in stating that what’s likely to lead us out of this recession? “A combination of bold goals on energy and the environment, significant investment in health care to fix a system that is set for absolutely massive challenges, combined with high-velocity innovation in all three sectors.”

That’s why one of my favourite quotes comes from Dr. William Reichman, president and CEO of Baycrest, a world-renowned centre for studying and treating diseases of aging: ““What we did for heart health in the 20th century, we can do for brain health in the 21st century” — in other world, some bold ideas and actions related to Alzheimer’s and dementia. We need more people thinking like he does.

And that is beginning to happen. From a global perspective, I am witnessing a real trend in which there is a shift in thinking as to how we deal with the significant challenges which are coming: worldwide, I am seeing a major new emphasis by health care providers, organizations, government, medical groups and others to a philosophy that is shifting to a “preventative” approach as opposed to a reactive model.

It’s focused, for example, on wellness and lifestyle; behaviour oriented payment policies; and aggressive public / private efforts for lifestyle modification.  I’ve just written about this in a previous blog post; see the link below.

What is also happening is a recognition that earlier screening for lifestyle and age related diseases can have a massive impact on the overall cost of dealign with the scope challenge:

  • “Identifying dementia early can cut the cost of care by nearly 30 percent … routine screening that identified patients with early signs of dementia helped cut average healthcare costs by nearly $2,000 per patient in the first year, often by eliminating money spent on unnecessary tests and treatments.” Early diagnosis can cut Alzheimer’s costs, Reuters Health E-Line, July 2010

The key issue as we go forward: where there is a crisis, there is an opportunity for innovative thinking.

We are in a period of time that involves tremendous challenges; and yet, when we step back 10 or 20 years from now, we will see a number of organizations which stepped up to the challenge and pursued some pretty bold concepts and ideas.

In the context of the World Pharma Innovation Congress and my London keynote? Obviously, pharmaceutical companies have huge opportunities in terms of unique and innovative approaches in dealing all of these challenges. It’s an industry that has had its share of problems and challenges from a variety of different perspectives — but now is the time to think big, and innovate!


  • The future of seniors care: big trends or crazy ideas? 
  • Insurance 2020: Bold moves, turning concepts upside down 


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.