Irving Berlin, eat your heart out. There’s no business like the healthcare business, or so it seems from a recently published info-graphic in the Wall Street Journal. Where are the jobs in America? You guessed it, healthcare. But is that a healthy thing for the economy, or a leading indicator of an insidious illness?
First of all, let me apologize to every clinician reading this. As a doctor myself, I know there is nothing more distasteful to a physician, nurse, or anyone else who works in healthcare than referring to the industry as a “business”. To clinicians healthcare is a profession, a calling, a mission, but please not a business. However, whatever you want to call this two trillion dollar enterprise, it does represent a really significant piece of the US economy. In fact, in almost any developed country in the world it takes a pretty big bite.
No matter how you feel about healthcare, looking at the employment changes in the US over the last decade or so, one has to wonder if this could be considered a healthy trend in any country? And, is it sustainable? Furthermore, what does it really produce? I know that’s a very complicated question on many different levels. It does produce health and therefore when it works, it restores and prolongs human life and productivity. That is certainly a good thing for an economy. However, we also know it is a system that wastes a lot of money. In the US, by some estimates, it wastes as much as a third of all we spend.
So, looking at the map, is this a good thing for a country or as I said, an insidious cancer that is eating away at everything else we need to fund? Having spent some time with government leaders and health ministers around the world, I can tell you nearly everywhere, officials are increasingly alarmed about how much of their nation’s treasury is going to healthcare instead of the other necessities required for a robust and sustainable economy. Clearly, this calls for another approach. Healthcare shouldn’t be the leading employer in America, or for that matter, in any other country.
How do we use technology to redistribute knowledge and care in such a way that we gain far more productivity in the healthcare workforce while enabling patients and citizens to do more for themselves? How do we deliver only the most appropriate and effective care exactly when and where it is needed? How could we use technology to redistribute health and healthcare capacity around the world? What kind of partnerships and innovations are needed to reduce the cost of healthcare? How do we make smarter decisions about care and cure? These are some of the questions that must be addressed, and soon. If not, America might become the first economy in the world brought down by the very industry that is supposed to keep all of us well.