I wasn’t even born until 11 years afterwards, but I grew up fully aware of the launch of Sputnik I in 1957, the dog “Laika” sent up by the USSR the next year, and the whole “space race” between the Americans and the Russians. Those historical moments gave us a global–even galactic–perspective and a global competition for innovation. Yes, for many people, it was tinged with an element of fear and potential military catastrophe. But for me as a child through to this very day, it captured my imagination and felt like a collective sense of purpose for where America should be headed. It was that generation’s manifest destiny to own the skies, and it generated enormous advances in other fields and industries as a side effect of focusing on those grand challenges.
As we are bogged down in this healthcare reform debate (and for those of you who missed the intended parody of my last blog post, I want to assure you that, while tired of the silly headlines and partisan posturing, I am okay and that it was meant entirely as a humorous critique of our healthcare paradigm!), it occurs to me that the President and Congress have missed an enormous opportunity to show how healthcare reform–what we really ought to call “healthcare innovation” instead–could and should be the context for the equivalent of our next global space race.
We should be taking a global, competitive perspective towards healthcare reform, realizing that some country is going to develop new infrastructure and industries to deliver care in fundamentally new ways for our swiftly aging planet. Some nation will see this global age wave not only as an economic threat but as an opportunity to generate new technologies, services, and jobs to deliver personal healthcare. Back in the year 2000, there were 600 million people over the age of 60 on our planet. By 2025, in just fifteen more years, the World Health Organization says there will be 1.2 billion…with more than 2 billion by the mid century point. This demographic horizon is where we should be aiming. The United States ought to be at the forefront of innovation to meet the needs of this global age wave.
How do we pay for the uninsured and our voracious healthcare appetite in America? One answer would be to become a global leader of delivering new healthcare services and technologies not only here at home but also to many other parts of the world. Someone is going to use the advances of the Internet, genetic testing, personalized medicine, home diagnostics, health coaching and disease management software, and social networking sites to deliver care differently. Some country is going to tap into the “Boomer Phenomena” to foster and ride a cultural movement of consumer empowerment, self-care, personal responsibility, and patient proactivity with new services that allow people to pilot their own bodies and healthcare experiences from their own homes, laptops, cell phones, and personal health records. The question is: are we in the United States prepared to compete in this global race to deliver personal health care to the planet?
I get to spend some time in Europe when visiting our Technology Research for Independent Living, or TRIL Centre, in Dublin, Ireland (check out www.trilcentre.org). My friends and colleagues there tell me that the European Union is investing with clear intent to develop a 21st century healthcare services infrastructure for themselves (they are ahead of us on the age wave curve so already need advances in aging-in-place and disease management technologies) and for other countries. They have invested more than one billion Euros in independent living technology research. They have made home and community based care an international priority. They are exploring the trans-national licensure of doctors and nurses who could then deliver care to their patients virtually or in locations across Europe. They are in the early stages of training and credentialing new kinds of home care and other “care concierge” workers. They are investing in broadband and other computing infrastructure to the home–even in rural areas–to help people be “e-citizens,” which very much includes getting health care at home. So perhaps the United States is already well behind in the “space race” to innovate for global aging?
As the President addresses Congress and the nation next week on healthcare reform, I hope he brings his innovation message forward. He has reinvested in science and technology research and education. He has hired the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. He has invested in health information technologies and electronic health records as infrastructure for healthcare reform. He has shown how innovation to meet the needs of Global Warming can generate new jobs and industries across America. Now he needs to show how the same results can come from a focus on Global Aging.
Mr. President, let Wednesday’s speech be your call for a Sputnik launch for healthcare reform…start the next space race…throw down the innovation gauntlet to the American people to make healthcare reform not only a means of healing our sick care system but also a means of generating new jobs, new kinds of healthcare jobs, new technologies, and new services for providing care which could extend globally. Show the American people and the rest of the world that healthcare innovation–for a global marketplace–can be a stimulus to our economy. Let us begin the race that others have already started. It is our generation’s challenge to own the future of healthcare–the largest segment of the economy in almost every nation on the planet. Healthcare reform and policies in Washington D.C. should focus on helping us to compete fairly, vigorously, and internationally…and to win.