After a week at the World Economic Forum in Davos this month, I'm convinced the globe faces two existential threats that demand disruption of our businesses, our policies and indeed our lifestyles: climate change and health assurance for all.
Both will require disruption in our way of thinking, creative partnerships with entities that have not worked together to create new ecosystems, as well as artificial intelligence and other new technologies that may be game-changers if constructed properly.
Just as climate change cannot be solved by the energy industry alone, health assurance cannot be solved by the healthcare delivery industry alone. At Davos, I served as a distinguished fellow of the World Economic Forum, charged with developing equitable and sustainable business models for the transition to a digital economy—what World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab called the "fourth industrial revolution."
The fourth industrial revolution can be defined in a pretty nonthreatening way as the blurring of boundaries between the digital, physical and biological worlds, as a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, genetic engineering, quantum computing, 5G and the kitchen sink of exciting new technologies that will blossom in the next decade.
But the impact of a digital economy on healthcare will be immense. Which is why at Davos I advocated that we talk less about the technology of self-driving cars, and more about self-healing humans.
After presenting at 10 sessions at the forum, here's my framework for equitable and sustainable models of change:
Start with ethics. Trust is more important than technology. Ethics must be injected into product development at the very earliest stage, when values are being assessed. Don't wait until a product is ready for market and then ask marketing to make it trustworthy.
Reach across industry. We talk and plan in silos, but health assurance only comes when our industry talks with those involved in food, transportation, education, policy and the creation of jobs.
There's no such thing as "non-disruptive" disruption. By definition, disruption will be painful to those who don't want to think differently as new ecosystems are built.
Data is not the new gold, but intellectual property is. We must understand how intellectual property is derived from the personal data of our patients, and ensure there are bright lines for enhanced consent in the use of this data.
Never forget the human in the middle. As online meets offline, the excitement tends to focus on the technology. But what's exciting is focusing on humans—on new roles for clinicians in the online-meets-offline world, on new services for patients. And on what I call health assurance—constructing a system where the primary goal is a healthy and happy life for all.
As in the climate change crisis, it's the humans who will create the revolution. There is, in fact, an army of Greta Thunbergs in healthcare. You see them in the patient empowerment movement. You see them among our students, who are deeply concerned about social justice in a world that doesn't reimburse for it. You see them in the calls for gender and racial equality. And you can find them in the frontiers of the digital health movement.
I've long believed that if you want to see the future, find good people who are uncomfortable with the status quo. Our job is to go to places like Davos and advocate for those people—for a system that can be brilliant when caring for the sick, but also enhances health assurance across all boundaries.