How technology can change the future of health in America

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The U.S. spends nearly twice as much on medical care compared to other high-income countries, yet does not yield better health outcomes. By 2020, fully one-fifth of U.S. gross domestic product will be spent on health, but there’s little confidence that the increase in cost will be matched with patient outcomes. Can we break this cycle of high spending and flat results?

No surprise that a growing number of major U.S. tech companies think this is the ideal moment for disruption. The increased involvement in the health sector by Amazon, Apple, Google and others, some in partnership with other major U.S. non-health companies, foreshadows what could be a remarkable era of innovation in the health sector. As detailed in A.T. Kearney’s new report, America is at the center of a confluence of technologies that are converging to transform our approach to human medicine.

Breakthroughs in the life sciences are accelerating, especially in genomics. The cost of gene sequencing has fallen exponentially, driven by improvements in processing, data storage, and sensors. In gene editing, the development of CRISPR-Cas9 continues to redefine medicine and biotechnology. This “cut and paste” tool for DNA can easily and inexpensively delete, repair or replace genes with precision, creating unprecedented opportunities to alter the human genetic code and cure diseases.

A new wave of digital medical technology is also emerging. Remote connectivity, “internet of things” devices, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing are just a few of the new technologies that are transforming provider capabilities, as well as patient experience and outcomes. The proliferation of electronic health records and new health data sources such as wearables is creating new troves of health data.

All of these developments in health technology will ultimately benefit patients and have the potential to reduce cost of care. However, questions surround equality of access. There is an existing, clear correlation between economic inequality and disparity in U.S. health care outcomes. The richest 1 percent of American men live 15 years longer than the poorest 1 percent. As costs have risen, health-care spending for the wealthiest quintile of Americans increased nearly 20 percent between 2004 and 2012. Conversely, spending decreased by 3.7 percent over the same period for the poorest quintile.

Put simply, the gap in spending and outcomes is widening. New technologies and life science breakthroughs could reverse this trend in the long run. But at present, costs remain high and it is an open question as to whether these staggering technology benefits will be available to all patients — or just those who can afford the price of admission.

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