(Originally published on LinkedIn)
There is a story to be told about making our world healthier, a story that is decades old yet just beginning to unfold. A story that begins with urgent need.
Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote address at the 5th annual China Medical Affairs Summit in Shanghai. The story I told was one of hope, of imagination and the will to create a bright future. Some excerpts below.
Much of modern medicine is an expensive craft that leaps from heroic intervention to heroic intervention. We treat the sick with ever more expensive and complex approaches. The focus is on prolonging length—on the quantity rather than the quality of days.
We are spending more and more on health care yet getting what are, at best, uneven results.
Diabetes is a case in point. Someone still dies of diabetes every six seconds—5 million every year. More than 400 million people worldwide, more than the entire population of the United States, have diabetes. The bulk of those are Type 2, a disease that is largely preventable through nutrition, exercise and weight loss. Another 318 million people are pre-diabetic, and most of them don’t even know they’re at risk.
Whether the ailment is diabetes or Alzheimer’s, cancer or cardiovascular disease, we can’t sustain these trends. And we don’t have to. What I want us to imagine is a world where we do not merely treat diseases, we prevent, intercept and cure.
I imagine a world where many of the diseases that have created the greatest burden today have been rendered inconsequential—a world where we spend much more of our time stewarding health rather than treating illness. This will take innovation not just in medicine but in mindsets, not just in science but in systems, not just in technology but in our total approach to health care.
Let’s start with prevention —keeping people from getting sick by focusing on wellness far before disease sets in. We need to push the current boundaries and imagine a world without disease. How about a world in which the term “patient” is almost a bygone term because preventing disease in healthy people is the new normal?
Moving from prevention to interception – in this future world, interception will have proven to be a highly effective approach to minimizing the impact and risks of disease. We will have strategies to intercept and strike disease at its very earliest stages, successfully pre-empting it with innovative approaches to address genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers and track and intervene in people at risk of developing disease. If prevention targets populations, interception drills down to the individual level with biomarkers that can predict with high accuracy the chance of an individual getting a disease.
In this unfolding story, should some disease still break through, despite our best efforts at interception, we must transition our approach to our third pillar – CURE. And that includes providing access to medical and surgical cures. The next wave of robotics holds special potential to do exactly that.
As a Chief Medical Officer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress the utter importance of ensuring the safety of the products coming to market in this modern-day revolution. The demand for solutions or the call for innovation cannot outpace the rigor of science and data. The maxim, ‘first do no harm’ will always remain true.
We can redefine healthcare. We can write our own story. But it begins with the will to dream.
Together, we will create a bright future where every man, woman and child can live a life free from the worries of illness—where their concern is not simply preventing disease but living a full life. And that’s the story we need to write together. Let’s begin!