Within days, many in the global health community – across its diverse ecosystem – will head to HLTH in Las Vegas. The meeting will attract 10,000 people who label themselves as health innovators, futurists, change agents, patient advocates, policymakers, providers, theorists, and more. Most are hopeful that the coming year will bring extraordinary new possibilities to patient care, and others are critics, rightfully worried that the cost of care is climbing beyond the ability of public payers to provide. HLTH is a vast, big tent of people committed to (positive) change.
Achievements in science, tech advancements, shifts in health policy, a renewed interest in preventative care, and tackling health disparities can shift how we improve people’s health. Will these topics be front and center at HLTH? We’ll know more in the days ahead.
10 Predictions for the HLTH Main Stage
Here are my 10 predictions for health innovation in 2024 that have the potential to transform health – topics that should be woven into the commentary during HLTH mainstage conversations – that can make the most significant impact to improve people’s outcomes, reduce costs, and advance wellness. Let’s see what next weeks social media posts provide that give us indication of the changes ahead.
Prediction 1: AI-Driven Medicine Saves Lives
ChatGPT and AI (augmented intelligence) made their big public splash this year! However, Microsoft and evangelists such as Tom Lawry and John Nosta have been pointing to AI as a life-sustaining tool in health for years. Surprisingly, “big data and “machine learning didn’t attract the same attention as the newest label – AI! These technologies enable the development of highly personalized treatment plans based on an individual’s genetic makeup, medical history, and lifestyle and risk factors. AI-driven predictive models will assist health providers in making more accurate diagnoses faster and tailoring treatments for optimal patient outcomes.
Prediction 2: Telemedicine and Virtual Patient Monitoring Go Mainstream
Telemedicine saw unprecedented and “no alternative” growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. It should continue to see prominence in 2024. Improvements in telehealth infrastructure and regulatory support make virtual consultations with health professionals accessible and efficient. One challenge has been reimbursement for providers compared to in-office visits. There is a time and place for in-person care and virtual engagement. Regardless, the urgencies of people in rural and remote communities and preventive care needs make telemedicine and virtual patient monitoring public health priorities. There is no going back!
Prediction 3: Women’s Health Innovation Prioritized
Women’s health remains under-researched and is barely prioritized by biopharma companies and government-supported research grants. Women comprise half the adult population, but research into women’s health needs is embarrassingly low. The National Institutes of Health directs $42 billion on medical research annually, but only $5 billion of those funds are targeted to women’s health priorities. One global company stands out as a leader – more are needed. In the 1990s, women were more likely to die from their first heart attack compared to men due to gender bias. While those statistics have improved, women still face numerous public policy and care disparities – among the more pressing challenges – reproductive choice. These issues should take center stage and HLTH may be the platform for this long over-due (and urgent) conversation.
Prediction 4: Digital Therapeutics Take Center Stage
Digital therapeutics, including smartphone apps and wearables, will become integral to health intervention and connection. These innovative tools help patients manage chronic conditions, monitor vital signs, and adhere to treatment plans. The gamification of health through digital therapeutics will encourage patient engagement and long-term health outcomes. Sector leaders, like Click Therapeutics Founder David Klein, are adopting “biopharma” like research models to demonstrate their value to patient care by conducting well-designed clinical trials that show complementary benefits with and with other therapies. Those enterprises will set the stage for the future of digital therapeutics and redefine the category.
Prediction 5: Health Data Privacy and Security
Despite the hype, consumer-friendly cybersecurity technologies can shift how health data is managed and shared. Patients will have greater control over their health information and records, with the ability to securely share them with health providers, clinical researchers and other stakeholders as needed. Data that cannot be accessed or shared transparency and securely is useless in sustaining and saving lives. Consumers and health professionals need easier ways to protect sensitive health information and streamline data exchange for improved care coordination. EMRs are great if they offer convenient use and application; however, they are too often a jumble of inaccessible information. Security and utility are key! So long (hopefully) fax machine!
Prediction 6: Obesity as a Treatable Disease
Among the most dramatic ways to reduce disease burden and address heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and even some cancers is to take obesity (very) seriously. It Is not only about weight reduction but understanding that obesity is a domino effect, a multi-system disease. Weill Cornell’s Louis J. Aronne, MD‘s pioneering work recognized early that seeing this only as a “weight problem” underestimates its enormous human health impact. More and more, physicians will need to tap into the expertise of specialists to guide their treatment decisions. With new medications available, physicians will examine the problem and think about solutions. However, reducing weight is only part of the clinical response. Getting it right will save millions of lives and billions in costs.
Prediction 7: Robotics and Automation
Don’t be surprised when robotic technology is increasingly integrated into health systems ORs and patient-care wings. Robots will soon perform set surgical procedures, dispensing medication, and performing patient-care tasks. Watch for Rafael Grossmann, MD, who first used Google Glasses in the OR to push the boundaries on what is possible and needed. Automation will enhance efficiency, reduce human error, and improve patient safety. Robotic exoskeletons will also aid in rehabilitation and mobility for individuals with physical impairments. But remember the human touch! While ChatGPT has become a patient favorite in searching out information and robotics will transform the patient experience, people’s confidence in skilled medical professionals remains paramount.
Prediction 8: Mental Health Priorities
There is a long-needed shift toward destigmatizing mental health issues and increasing access to mental health services. AI-powered chatbots and virtual therapists will provide on-demand support, while data analytics can identify at-risk individuals and tailor interventions. Virtual reality therapies will increasingly become a mainstream treatment option for anxiety and PTSD. Services and upskilling are becoming an investment and professional-development priority. However, while tech has a place in the process, there is something to be said for developing a personal relationship with a licensed psychologist or licensed clinical social worker skilled in face-to-face therapy. It’s always about caring for people!
Prediction 9: Global Collaboration for the Next Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of global collaboration in addressing public health emergencies. In 2024, international cooperation and data sharing must be at the forefront of pandemic preparedness. A global surveillance network will provide early warning systems, and rapid vaccine development platforms should be established to respond to emerging infectious diseases quickly. COVID was a test run, and from a public health information standpoint, the developed nations stumbled. From disappointment comes learning. Collaboration among public health professionals, policymakers, and medical innovators was paramount to the – even stymied – response.
Prediction 10: Ethical Considerations for Health Innovation
As health innovation advances in 2024, ethical considerations must take prominence. The long overdue pain revealed during COVID must shift mindsets, behaviors and budgets. We must expect increased scrutiny and priority around data privacy, AI bias, health, and attention to racial and gender disparities. We must set a path for responsible use of emerging technologies. We must recognize that public policy cannot diminish people’s care options. Ethical frameworks and regulations will be developed to ensure that health innovation benefits all people – and all nations – while respecting access, rights, and values.
A Common Call to Action at HLTH
These 10 predictions are a glimpse into the possibilities of what we might hear from speakers during HLTH. AI-driven personalized medicine, telemedicine and virtual patient monitoring, women’s health, digital therapeutics, cybersecurity, obesity management, robotics, mental health innovation, global collaboration, and ethical considerations should be front and center in the conversation to improve people’s health and well-being. Life is often referred to “as a game.” It’s not. Health access cannot be roulette wheel spin left to chance. It requires advocacy, policy, planning and empathy. Kindness is a human quality that must be given center stage.
Right now, the people who often need preventive and primary care services face the most significant hurdles. These predictions are based on one underlying principle – health innovation can only achieve its greatest potential when available to those with the greatest needs. Hopefully, we’ll hear from more and more speakers stepping to the stages at HLTH that shared call to action.