As we look to move the ball forward with health IT, we’re closely watching exponential technologies and their potential power to transform the industry. Exponential technologies have the potential to render the health care sector unrecognizable in a relatively short amount of time. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, and synthetic biology all have the ability to potentially dramatically disrupt the systems and processes that have historically defined the health care industry. Along with preparing for the industry’s imminent changes, stakeholders should consider getting on a path that allows them to take advantage of exponentials.
The idea of exponential growth goes back to 1965 when Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled about every year since their invention.1 He predicted the trend would continue, and it has. This is now known as Moore’s Law. And as technology advances, costs plummet – which follows the Law of Accelerating Returns, a term coined by futurist Ray Kurzweil.2
How does this translate to health care? Consider this: Beginning in 1999, scientists spent five months and approximately $300 million to generate the first initial “draft” of a human genome sequence. The cost to generate a human genome sequence is now less than $1,000, according to National Institutes of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute.3 It could eventually drop to less than $1.
Convergence of exponentials could accelerate change
Exponentials have already transformed many other industries, changing the way consumers interact with the world. Some industries have been long resistant to change. This gives us some insight into how exponentials might impact health care.
Video streaming services, for example, quickly and fundamentally altered the way we consume television and movies. Not long ago, our viewing options were limited to programs broadcast by three national television networks. The networks determined what we could watch and when. That experience can now be highly personalized. The use of basic algorithms allow us to view the content we want, when we want it, and how we want it. We might watch a show at home while sitting on the couch, or through a smartphone while crammed into the middle seat on an airplane. Similarly, ride-sharing services took on the world of taxis and reinvented ground transportation by making it much more convenient.
A high level of personalization is now expected for all types of goods and services…including health care. Moreover, as individual exponentials combine with others, the convergences push technology ahead even more quickly. Competitors might not be hindered by established systems and may be able to detect and capitalize on technology-driven disruptors more quickly than incumbents.
During a recent Deloitte Dbriefs webcast, we asked our 1,677 participants which technologies – synthetic biology and nanotechnology, additive manufacturing, genomics and proteomics, or a convergence of multiple technologies – presented the biggest opportunity for life sciences. About 30 percent of participants predicted it would be a combination of technologies.
Stakeholders should prepare for a changing world and new competitors
Many disruptions in other industries have altered consumer expectations and have helped give oxygen to new entrants and to competitors from different industries. Many entrepreneurs and health care consumers are asking fundamental questions about why the patient experience isn’t more personalized, and why the system isn’t more convenient. Why do patients have to go a centralized location to see a doctor? Why can’t the health plan, the hospital, and the doctors all agree to prices and a payment model before the patient gets involved?
These are questions that stakeholders should consider addressing if they hope to preserve and grow their existing customer relationships. In industries where disruptive transitions or transformations have occurred, incumbent companies have tended to over value their existing customer relationships with customers. They typically also consider themselves to be better prepared than they actually are.
At the same time, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and other new entrants to a market often underestimate how difficult it is to acquire a customer. However, if these new entrants are able to create a better customer experience, or convince people to try something new, they can grow quickly.
Here are three areas where exponentials already are beginning to help reshape our industry:
- Synthetic biology: Synthetic biology and the ability to create DNA, genomics, and proteomics are advancing rapidly. Applications for life sciences companies are phenomenal, particularly when you consider how these technologies could be combined with others such as cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.
- 3D printing and nanotechnology: Once you understand DNA sequencing at a detailed level, you reach a point where you can print actual tissue. There are people walking around today who have at least one ear that was printed. Through nanotechnology, innovators could develop a customized white blood cell that is specifically designed to hunt down and attack cancer cells at a molecular level.
- Genetics: Based on our understanding of genomes, we know that some drugs are more effective for some populations than others. When we sub-segment those populations even further, we eventually get to a market where you know exactly how to treat an illness. We could get to a point where we can predict and prevent future illnesses. Genomic testing is quickly becoming another point-of-care tool.
There is no doubt that change is coming to health care – and exponentials are helping drive it. The ability to innovate is important for all health care stakeholders. As exponentials advance, they will likely either collide or come together to create disruptive opportunities for both incumbent players and newcomers.