The US has one of the best sick-care systems in the world, but it is a system designed to react to illness rather than prevent it in the first place. Most hospitals have patients who are there because they fell through the cracks of this system.
Imagine Larry, a recently widowed elderly man who relied on his wife to help him manage his type 2 diabetes and diet. In this scenario, Larry quickly becomes overwhelmed by everything needed to manage his illness, and he lacks the motivation to take it on himself. Without support structures, he misses doctor appointments, forgets medications, eats poorly, falls into a state of depression, and ultimately winds up being hospitalized. This is exactly how our episodic-based reactive health system was designed to work.
The ubiquitous, proactive, and integrated health system we envision by 2040 (perhaps even sooner) will reduce or even eliminate these types of situations. Immediately after Larry’s wife passes, a care advocate is automatically notified. The advocate might regularly visit Larry in person or virtually to check in and provide him with tools that will help him manage his health. A virtual assistant, for example, might remind Larry to take his medications or to take a walk outside. It might ask simple questions that allow his mood to be assessed through an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled voice analysis. A smart toilet might analyze his urine and alert the care team to changes in glucose levels. Based on glucose levels—combined with data from his smart refrigerator and pantry—the care advocate might help Larry schedule a drone to deliver groceries, medications, and vitamins. A virtual care coach might lead Larry through daily exercises. When in-person appointments are needed, the care team might schedule a driverless car to transport Larry.
This might seem like an overly rosy picture, and we certainly expect people will be dealing with complex health challenges 20 years from now. But we think consumers will have a much different relationship with their health in the future. We anticipate early detection and prevention will help consumers sidestep chronic diseases and live healthier lives. People who have chronic conditions will likely be surrounded by virtual and human support systems that can keep them from falling through the cracks.