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Healthcare is one of the most important factors in how we perceive quality of life, impacting everyone, everywhere: in most countries, alongside the economy, healthcare is the major political issue.

Robert Mathiowetz (SAP alumnus and healthcare expert) and I were very honored to host a discussion with SAP Alumni and SAP colleagues at the above-mentioned March 24th event.

The stage was set by some thought provoking statements: by 2050, experts agree, advances in telemedicine, robotics, nanotechnology, biomedicine, 3D printing, and deep-learning will result in highly personalized and efficient care. Most types of cancers will be turned into chronic diseases, or even eradicated permanently. Driven by big data, patients will consent to make their entire medical history and genomic information available in data clouds, mined by researchers to continuously optimize treatment. Personal early warning systems will boost prevention: the health status of consumers and patients will be monitored through real-time analysis of blood components, movement, behavior, voice. No need for a hospital: in the rare case that remote treatment by a team of MDs doesn’t work, we might have to visit a local clinic that looks like a Star Trek sickbay.

Cost as a driver

The roundtable participants immediately honed in on the top-of-mind issues that need to be considered for healthcare of the future. Due to better care, we may live longer, which could lead to an increase in the number of years at the end of our lives that we suffer from chronic disease. At the same time, there will be fewer younger people, and they will thus need to pay proportionally more into the health system. Furthermore patients are now better informed and more demanding due to comprehensive online information. Keeping people healthy will thus become more critical from a cost perspective. Societies must move away from the current “sickcare” and truly invest in “healthcare”. In short: prevention. The technology to support this is already available, but this goal can only be achieved by efficient use of the data from both the patient, and the healthy consumer. 98% of all sick patients readily make their medical information available for research, but healthy individuals are more hesitant to do so. One example mentioned was the data from flight attendants at a major airline: a wealth of information could be collected and mined, leading to exciting insights, and benefits for all. Yet, regulation and a clear definition of the benefits - in short: TRUST – is needed to make this work. Also the reimbursement model for the healthcare providers need to be adjusted as currently only sick patients are compensated

Technology to support the physician

Society is still looking at the challenges from today’s perspective. The costs of sequencing a human genome is expected to drop from 1B$ 15 years ago to about 200$ (an amazing factor of 5 million). Predictive and cognitive capabilities will improve dramatically, and as a result, healthcare will become much more data centric. In many industries, the worker/person has already been removed from the process, e.g. in banking the cashier has been replaced by the cash machine. MDs will always be needed, but in the future, they will most likely own the compassion, the intuition and the entire patient picture. They will also guide the patient through the data jungle.

Shift to prevention

At the same time, there is already now a tremendous lack of specialists. Oncologists can’t be trained fast enough, so the new technologies must be applied. Prevention and proactive, personalized medicine will become more important. Healthcare is the most expensive during the last 2 years of a person’s life. The aim, also in our own interest, will be to help us reach our nineties, but without suffering from chronic diseases, followed by an ‘undramatic’ death. Insurances will play a pivotal role in this. Currently, patients are only billed if they are sick. This will shift from a pay-for-service to a pay-for-outcome, pay-for-value or accountable care mode. Insurances will try to keep consumers healthy, and self-monitoring will play an ever-bigger role.

But how about data privacy?

Data privacy was top of mind and a reoccurring topic in the discussion. Individuals will want to know where their data ends up. The technology to keep data private and secure is available today. Novel technologies, such as blockchain, may be even better at tracking data leakage. But, in the end, the patient or consumer information should be freely available for research, in an anonymized manner, to benefit us all.