The Health Divide
the great divides
An in-depth assessment of how the megatrends will have a profound impact at the societal level, reveals that these megatrends, in combination, exert strong pressures for growing divides within society in three primary areas: The Wealth Divide, The Health Divide, and The Technology Divide.
the Health divide
The most spectacular advance in the history of medical science has been the mapping of the human genome. The first human genome took about 13 years to map, finishing early in the new millenium, at a cost of about $1 billion. Today, a human genome can be mapped in a matter of hours at a cost of under $1000. This major technological advance holds the promise for medical treatment to be tailored specifically to the individual, realizing much more effective treatments and better health outcomes. However, even with this dramatic advance, new medical technologies, while holding the promise of living longer, healthier lives, also tends to be very expensive. Indeed, as medical care becomes increasingly individualized, this implies the tailoring of individual drugs and therapies and a need for greater variety of drugs and therapies in smaller volumes, likely increasing the overall cost.
Big Data also holds promise for better health outcomes as analysis of detailed information on treatments and health outcomes at the population level, as well as the potential for a dramatic increase in health data through personal fitness monitoring devices also enables the personalization of medicine.
However, just as the potential is there for better health outcomes, exacerbating and accelerating the Changing Demographics megatrend, it is unlikely that these benefits will be available to all, thus leading to an increasing Health Divide where some have access to these medical advances and lead increasingly long and healthy lives while others do not benefit from these technologies. Urban Regeneration plays a role here as urban centers attract the most advanced hospitals, medical facilities, medical professionals and resources leading to an urban/rural Health Divide.
societal and business challenges posed by the Health divide
The Changing Demographics megatrend also plays heavily to the Health Divide. As people live longer lives, and fertility rates fall, there is a higher proportion of the population in old age. This increases the demand on the healthcare system. In all likelihood there will be an increasing rationing of healthcare services forced upon developed economies as these systems struggle to cope with demand. However this rationing is done at the societal level, be it by who can afford to pay, by geography, by age, by lottery, or by prior health conditions or predicted remaining life expectancy there are huge ethical and political questions that need to be addressed.
For companies in the U.S. the big issue is the ever escalating cost of healthcare insurance and the limits to what the company can provide to its employees, and in many cases, its retirees. As the population and workforce ages, costs increase not only with the cost of providing access to new medical technologies, but also the increased needs of an older demographic. As companies seek to pare these healthcare costs a range of approaches, from wellness programs to increase the overall health of the workforce, to reducing options and benefits will increasingly be on top of the agenda.