The Future of Healthcare

Dramatic improvements in healthcare over the last few centuries have carried humanity from the grips of early death to a renaissance of longevity and improving wellness. Today’s modern era has its own health challenges to be certain, but overall humans are living longer lives, thwarting once-fatal diseases, and mending debilitating wounds better than ever.

Healthcare will continue to be critical over the coming decades as the human population grows and ages at a rapid pace. Presuming that research and development receive adequate funding, allowing innovations to reach the market in an affordable way, some amazing changes should be in store for the world’s ailing, hurt and elderly.

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Here are four emerging innovations in healthcare that I believe will be the most transformative for medicine and wellness in years to come.

3D Printing

It has technically been around since 1984, but it has only recently witnessed an explosion in commercial usage, with the industry growing by 35.2 percent in 2014 alone. 3D printed products range across a variety of industries from toys to heavy industry, and healthcare is among the most propitious.

3D printers, which assemble products directly from a digital model with layers of manmade or organic material, can manufacture skin for burn victims, airway splints for weak lungs, and will soon reach fully functioning human organs. Though emerging technologies typically take time to become cost effective in hospitals, 3D printing is less expensive than other forms of manufacturing and will become mainstream much sooner assuming regulators get on board.

Implant Technology

Technology is starting to get under our skin — in both a figurative and literal sense. New electronic implants can be embedded into the human body to sense, record, and influence internal functionality. The possibilities are truly impressive: tiny devices that have the ability to detect and counteract seizures in epileptics, slow cell damage in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients, and even restore power to the blind, deaf, or paralyzed.

Many of the most extraordinary of these implants have not reached the mass market yet, and will require more testing to be proven effective, affordable, and safe for use. When implants become a viable alternative to medication, they will become an even more commonplace and revolutionary form of treatment.

Robotic Aides

Though the idea may make you think of the Jetsons’ maid, robot caretakers are already here with more to come soon. Though doctors and nurses will remain the primary medical personnel for decades to come, robotic assistants will augment their abilities to the benefit of patients both in and out of hospitals.

Robotic aides are already caring for the elderly. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, retire, and seek eldercare, even more opportunities will arise for robotic assistance.

Robots today can perform surgery, provide medical counsel remotely, assist in eating and child therapy, and deliver specimens in hospitals. Some robotic aides can perform the equivalent work of three human employees for the cost of less than one. As healthcare industries need of workers grows, these robotic helpers will be put to good use with thousands expected to enter hospitals in coming years.

Advanced Sensors

Wearable technology has been touted as the next big craze for tech and fashion, but its sensor functionality is perfectly suited for healthcare innovation. The growing popularity of fitness trackers makes clear that this type of technology has a bright future in tracking and relaying health information from a medical perspective.

Clinically accurate blood pressure monitors, smart hearing aids, clothing that tracks breathing and heart rate, and wearable infrared light therapy for chronic pain are all devices that recently debuted at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). That’s not to mention Google’s smart contact lenses, which will sense glucose levels for patients with diabetes, and other devices like smart pacemakers.

Among the most groundbreaking in sensor technology may be digestible sensors. These tiny pill-like contraptions transmit patient internal data to doctors as they move through the body and interacts with various organs.

These are just a few of the innovations that I foresee will change healthcare across the world as they continue being developed and move into the mass market. Imagine what these will do for quality of life and quality of treatment for our current generations and those to come.

Chipotle Really Does Appreciate Their Employees

Following the E. coli scare that landed 21 people in the hospital a few months ago, Chipotle closed all of their stores today for a national employee meeting. At this meeting they planned to “share information as to what may have caused some customers to become ill in 2015” as well as present an outline with “the steps that have been taken outside the restaurants to make Chipotle ingredients safer than ever.” The meeting was broadcasted live from Denver to various locations across the country so that all employees could attend. Stores re-opened nationally at 3pm.

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Steve Ellis, the Founder, Chairman, and co-CEO of Chipotle says, “We want [our employees] to know how much we appreciate their dedication to this critical mission.” I am impressed by how much Chipotle values their employees and it makes a strong statement for themselves publicly as well. There are a number of ways that company executives could have delivered this message to their associates without closing their stores – just like the processes for training on new equipment or menu items.

Fast food workers often have very little reason to choose one employer over another since they all have roughly the same low hour wage, so Chipotle is changing that. By closing the stores and truly soliciting employee feedback Chipotle’s management is then reaching out to strengthen employee relationships in a time when the scandal surrounding food safety may otherwise cause them to look for jobs at employers who aren’t in the press for such issues.

A Society for Human Resource Management’s Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement study, found that compensation and a sense of job security are the top two determinants of job happiness.  Creating a forum to make sure employees know the reasons why no more E. coli outbreaks are expected is a key way to rebuild that security, in an environment where presumably, employee questions and voices can be heard.

Third in the SHRM study in job happiness, incidentally, are issues related to work scheduling.  Presumably the all-hands meeting was selected for a date and time that works well for the vast majority of Chipotle employees. Yet, Chipotle’s strategy can also include discussions about scheduling every day as a way to keep employees engaged on even the most mundane days by giving them a voice in this more personal issue.

Other restaurant employers have taken these notions of employee engagement to heart by finding ways to distinguish themselves as potential employers of choice by giving employees a voice in collaboratively creating schedules that work for them every day of the year.

P.S. To apologize for being closed today, Chipotle is giving out free burritos.

The World’s Reaction to the Zika Virus

Everyone is clinging onto every bit of news released about the Zika virus and they should. It is a disease without an easy prevention strategy, no known cure and now everyone in the Americas is nervous because of the link between the virus and the neurological disorders in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy.

The Zika virus was found in Brazil in May of 2015, but it was just on Monday that the international community stepped up and announced that the Zika virus’s associati download (6)on with birth defects is a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Since last May, when Zika first emerged in Brazil, more than 4,000 suspect cases of microcephaly have been reported in the country. Brazil’s total in previous years was only about 160 cases. However, the Zika virus has also been found in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and more than 25 countries and territories in the Americas region.

PAHO, who is WHO’s regional officer for the Americas has been working with affected countries since the first detection last year. They have been strengthening their abilities to detect the virus, gathering experts to assess current knowledge of the Zika virus and supporting efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

As of now, prevention methods are using insect repellant, staying indoors behind screens and closed doors and wearing clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. One more prevention method is covering containers that hold water.

Mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus are truly “problems without passports” that require cooperation among download (7)governments and sectors to keep people safe. This is especially important when there are no currently available universal prevention strategies – like a vaccine – and no known cures.

Margaret Chan, the head of WHO called independent health experts together this week to discuss how to come together as a global community to accelerate response and reduce the spread of the virus. This global platform is called International Health Regulations. After their meeting, they advised that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurologic disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” and provided concrete advice to global and local actors to address.

Fundamentally, the spread of the Zika virus has also highlighted the need to make sure girls and women around the world have access to quality reproductive and sexual health care, including counseling during their pregnancies.

Do you feel like there is enough being done? Are you taking precautions for the Zika virus?

Help, My Phone Is Becoming My Brain

I’m sure that everyone has experienced this. You are with friends and despite the physical proximity, mentally and emotionally, we might as well have been on different planets. Beyond constantly looking at our phones, we were all living on our phones. They have become our operative consciousness, creating a virtual reality where our brain is not present – even when the screen is off. You cannot escape the world of work emails, Instagram, text messages, etc. Our phone is now our brain, controlling our reality.

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There is a real danger that the digital world and real world have morphed into one. It is hard for us to escape that digital consciousness and be present. We excited in meaningless conversations that are uninteresting and unsophisticated because our brains are still busy consuming the digital world. I think that our subconscious is under siege as well. Have you done the following? After you’ve consumed all the new content in Instagram, you click the home screen button and then on autopilot tap the Instagram button again unable to process in that moment there is nothing new to see. The result? A recent HBR story uncovered that Millennials are stressed when they’re around their phones, but also stressed by their absence.

My phone is an invaluable tool for many aspects of my life such as communication, media consumption, transportation and more. The phone is amazing at creating different worlds that allow me to sometimes escape my real life for a few minutes, which sometimes I really need.

I have tried many times to make a commitment to create separation between my real life and the digital world. I know that when I am on my phone, I will exist on my phone and appreciate the power of knowledge and convenience that it provides. When I am in real life, I will focus on being fully present and leaving my digital consciousness behind. They worlds will intersect some times, but I try to do my best to keep my digital world from distracting me from reality.

At a minimum, I will try to engage more deeply with the people around me, look up when I walk along the street and appreciate the detail that other humans have created. Otherwise, my phone is my life and I will wake up 50 years from now and the inevitable nearness of death will finally force my brain to exist in reality.  I will then, finally realize that I haven’t lived at all, my phone was my brain.   

Make Sleep Your New Priority

We do it every night, not just because we need to, but also because we like it. So then we have to ask ourselves why it is the first thing for us to cut out of our schedule? “Oh I just want to finish this task first,” makes us go to sleep later, while “Oh my gosh, there is so much I have to do before work,” makes us wake up even earlier. This is a huge problem that we are not only facing as individuals, but as a society. This is what I would call the sleep deprivation crisis, which is having a great effect on our health, job performance, relationships and happiness whether we realize it or not.

A little over 60 years ago, only 11% of us were getting less than six hours of sleep every night. Today, more than 40% of us get less than six hours. Raise your hand if you’re one of them! This is probably a leading reason that more than 60 million prescriptions are written every year for sleeping pills. It all adds up and in the end, sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy about $63 billion every single year. That’s not all either. Drowsy drivers get into 328,000 accidents every year and 6,400 of them are fatal.

This is why we need a sleep revolution and it looks like it could already be beginning. Businesses, schools, medicine, sports, arts – all industries and sectors are recognizing the importance of sleep. Goldman Sachs has even banned interns from staying in the office overnight. Other top business leaders such as Cambell’s Soup CEO Denize Morison, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella have openly spoken about how they keep sleep as a high priority.

Even athletes are realizing that sleep is the ultimate performance-enhancing drug. Roger Federer says that if he does not get enough sleep, he does not feel right on the court. The world’s fastest man is with him too, saying that he needs to give his body rest and recover after hard training.

Let’s think about it. Sleep gives us the opportunity to connect with a deeper part of ourselves. All of the things that buzz around us – our jobs, relationships, emotions all cease during sleep. It is from this clearing of noise and clutter that we can awake the next morning rejuvenated and with fresh eyes – a reinvigorated spirit.

The Uberization of Health Care

If you’re in an industry where everyone is looking to disrupt, chances are that you’ve heard of “Uberization.” We have watched how the “Uberization” of the transportation industry has unfolded and now we have a new question to ask. Which industry is next for disruption?

Some say it will be the finance industry, like Zacharay Karabell who published, “The Uberization of Money.” Basically, if Uber connects people with a driver and leaves the dispather out of the picture, then the financial industry will connect people seeking loans directly to the people who can loan them money.

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And what are my thoughts? That it has already happened in the health care industry. It started with connectivity.

If you go to receive physical therapy, or get scripts from drug stores, there’s a good chance that your primary care physician is not directly connected with all of these different entities. This has been a problem for quite some time and I really think that it is more of a cultural problem than a technical problem. Health care lacks an infrastructure that can support the sharing of information among physicians. Unless there is a business incentive to bring patients and physicians together, it will never happen.

When you obtain the connectivity, the physician will be able to see their patient’s entire health journey – when they buy drugs, when they go to a therapist, when they go to the hospital, etc. It will give people the details to make better decisions by fully seeing and understanding what is going on. There must be a free flow of information that is supported by consumer and clinical analytics.

It must have an easy-to-use interface, similar to an Android or iOS application. It must also display relevant, personalized information to all parties – caregivers, physicians, therapists, etc. Think about someone taking responsibility for a loved one’s care. They need connectivity to have a holistic view on the situation. I can also see an increase of access points like telemedicine to local retail health clinics. This will ultimately drive down health care costs, enable better decisions, reduce administrative costs and simplify the patient experience.

When you have providers in value-based models, they are responsible for the entire health of the patient, not just transactional services. The health care industry needs to evolve from a fragmented system to an interconnected system that enables connectivity between the physician and the patient. This will only lead to stronger relationships among physicians and consumers.

Insurance Tech Startups Are Where?

Since 2010, the number of companies that target the insurance tech space has risen by $2.12 billion and $1.39 billion of that has come just in the past year.

From tech-enabled health coverage and insurance tools for on-demand workers and use cases, the multi-trillion dollar insurance industry is the new epicenter for startups. If you haven’t been following what is going on with insurance tech startups, I have got the whole story for you.

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There are more funded startups operating in health insurance than all of the other insurance types combined – 56 percent of all insurance tech startups actually. Let’s take a step back and think about why. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law back in 2010 – this created new opportunities for consumer health insurance providers. Health insurance tech companies like Oscar, Navera, Gravie, Stride Health and more have risen a great wealth in funding since last year. The other 44 percent of tech insurance companies are into auto insurance comparison engines, insured storage services for bitcoin and crop insurance tools.

From 2010 to now, the number of investors in the insurance tech ecosystem has also skyrocketed from less than 20 to over 300. New investors in the spaces include Founders Fund, Adreeessen Horowitz and even corporate venture capital investors like Mayo Clinic and BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners.

You bet the big insurance providers are increasing their investments in private tech companies too. Just last year, the tech startup deal activity by insurance companies increased by 460 percent. There are target areas where insurance firms have focused on such as price comparison, parking, auto insurance and robo-advisors to name a few. Below, you can take a look at just how diverse the insurance tech startups are in our present market.

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Even though it is a year away, many of the candidates for the 2016 United States presidency race want to abolish Obamacare. What impact, if any can you imagine this posing on the number of insurance tech startups that focus on health care? In a year, there could be another change in law that will make another industry more important than health. Will the legalization of cannabis in the treatment of medical ailments continue to develop in a way that will make an impact? Regardless, the numbers are certainly surprising when you stop and take a look; I hope that I opened your eyes to something new.

Explosion in Tianjin – Will China Learn?

On August 12th 2015, a series of explosions occurred at a container storage station. The blast consisted of two separate explosions that went off within 30 seconds of each other at a facility in the Port of Tianjin. Fires continued to burn throughout the weekend, causing a series of secondary explosions. The latest count of confirmed deaths is 114 people with as many as 80 people missing, mainly consisting of firefighters. There were 5,600 inhabitants that lived within 1km of the plant – the explosive blast and burns injured over 700 of them.

The cause? Government sources have identified three chemicals that were stored at the site that may have contributed to the explosion: ammonium nitrate, potassium nitrate, and calcium carbide. In particular, ammonium nitrate can explode when heated over 400 degrees Fahrenheit – it was used in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombings.

Over 700 tons of the highly toxic sodium cyanide was stored at the site. That is 70 times the legal limit. The chemical has been detected in the sewers. The local authorities have ordered the evacuation of residents living within 3 km of the explosion site. That means that over 6,000 people are now displaced in various temporary shelters.

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Many point that this is just another example of the dangers of Chinese industry. Lax safety procedures and oversight are blamed for the deaths of the victims, sending toxic fumes into the air, creating another threat to deal with.

President Xi Jinping told authorities to learn from the “extremely profound” lessons of the accident. The only problem is that it has all been said and done before, yet the accidents keep occurring. For example, in 2014, 68,061 people died on the job in China. However, the numbers of deaths do seem to be reclining. Work accidents in industrial, mining and commercial sectors has gone down 12.9% since the previous year. Though, the number of Chinese residents that fall victim, especially to toxic contamination continues the same.

It is known that producers cut regulation corners and countless examples of constructing plants and beginning production before a project has been approved. In April, there was an paraxylene explosion at a factory in Zhangzhou – the second to occur in the past two years. In 2013, over 100 workers died when there was a fire at a poultry plant in Dehui. Many died because of narrow exits and locked doors.

Regulations set by the State Administration of Work Safety say that facilities over 550 quare meters that contain and handle dangerous chemicals must be at least one kilometer from public buildings and facilities. That did not happen in Tianjin and the locals are asking why, why hasn’t the Chinese government done more to protect them?

Hopefully the Tianjin blast will be the last example and a turnaround point for China.

An Ebola Vaccine Is On The Way

The Lancet published that preliminary testing of the Guinea Phase III efficacy vaccine trial has proven that VSV-EBOV (Merck, Sharp & Dohme) is extremely effective against Ebola. The Data and Safety Monitoring Board conducted the review and concluded that trial testing should continue.

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Up to this point, the vaccine has shown 100% efficacy in individuals. However, the Guinean national regulatory authority wants to see more conclusive evidence that the vaccine can protect large populations through, “herd immunity.” In which, the vaccine would be a form of indirect protection from infectious disease when the majority of the population has become immune to an infection, in that, it would provide certain protection for non-immune individuals.

The Guinea vaccination trial began in late March of 2015, evaluating the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of a single dose of the VSV-EBOV vaccine in affected communities. The vaccine trial is actually based on the smallpox eradication strategy – using the ‘ring’ vaccination method. The idea behind this method is that by vaccinating every person that has come into contact with an infected individual, a protective ring will form and stop the disease from spreading further.

To this date, over 4,000 individuals that were in close contact of 100 Ebola patients such as family members, neighbors, and co-workers have participated in the trial. On July 26, the trial stopped randomization so that all people that were at risk could receive the vaccine immediately and minimize the necessary time to gather more conclusive evidence. Now this has stopped and 50 % of the rings have been vaccinated 3 weeks after the identification of an infected individual to have a comparison with the rings that were vaccinated immediately. The trial will also include new evidence of the vaccine’s safety for 13 to 17-year olds and possibly 6 to 12-year-old children.

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“In parallel with the ring vaccination, we are also conducting a trial of the same vaccine on frontline workers,” said Bertrand Draguez, Medical Director at Médecins sans Frontières. “If the vaccine is effective, then we are already protecting them from the virus. With such high efficacy, all affected countries should immediately start and multiply ring vaccinations to break chains of transmission and vaccinate all frontline workers to protect them.”

Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director of the World Health Organization gives credit to the Guinean Government, peopling living in the communities, and their other partners in the project. Dr. Sakoba Keita, Guinea’s national coordinator for the Ebola response sees the vaccine as Guinea’s gift to West Africa and the word. He acknowledges thousands of volunteers from across the country comprising of doctors, data managers and community mobilizers for contributing to the success of the vaccine so far.

Pollution in China is More Than a Public Health Threat

In March 2013, Premier Li Keqiang declared “war on pollution” but one year later, 90% of China’s biggest cities still fail to meet air quality standards. Granted that this still an improvement over last year, but it’s clear that they have a very long way to go before air quality in areas like Shanghai and Beijing become safe places to live and work. The pollution isn’t just a problem for public health reasons, but also its economic health.

In order to protect its ailing citizens and decrease the amount of pollution in the air, state regulators have been ordering the closure of most “offending enterprises”, according to The Economist. Combined with the economic slowdown in China, those who have been laid off due to these closures have a difficult time finding new jobs to support their families. Foreign companies that operate within China are also having difficulty recruiting senior executives from abroad because of the failing air quality. Most companies have had to offer a “hardship bonus” to those they hire as compensation for living in these conditions.

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Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at what exactly the air quality is like and how it’s measured. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is measured based on the presence and levels of particulates, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide in the air (to name a few). This could range anywhere between 0 and 500. The World Health Organization considers an AQI of 25 to be considered safe. But for many urban areas in China, the AQI could be anywhere between 100 and 500; sometimes more. Exposure to such levels after extended periods of time are known to cause both cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In fact, it’s been shown to decrease life expectancy by 5.5 years.

According to an MIT study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, there was an estimated $112 Billion lost in 2005 due to “lost labor and an increased need for health care.” The long-term effect on the health of China’s citizens puts a strain on the economy that cannot be undone overnight. The “war on pollution” is not a war that will be over anytime soon. But with determination and (most importantly) cooperation it’s a battle than can be won. We can hope that in time, improved conditions in China’s urban landscape will lead to additional economic growth.