We live in an era of technological advances fueling healthcare, in which tech is bringing care closer to the patient and empowering all healthcare stakeholders with, some might suggest, more data than we’re able to handle.
How data are used, owned, regulated, monetized and protected is just one thorny issue that new technology presents. And yet, despite these advances in technology, one overriding theme emerging from the recent Fortune Brainstorm HEALTH conference was a stark reminder that technology is not the solution to all that ails us. The Chief Medical Officer and other behavioral health experts from one of the conference’s lead sponsors, Cigna*, reminded us that, in many respects, there is a renewed appreciation for the basics even as technology advances at an exponential pace and becomes more real and realized than ever.
Interspersed throughout conversations about the explosion of data to drive decision-making, deep learning to speed drug development, artificial intelligence to empower healthcare workers in resource – constrained environments, IBM Watson to inform clinical decision-making, and even the application of virtual reality in a variety of clinical settings, was a return to what is core to health.
- Sleep Matters: Witness the success of Arianna Huffington’s THRIVE initiative, combined with a variety of CEOs who publicly acknowledge the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. It’s a challenge to the CEO narrative that the successful leader is superhuman and can somehow get by with only four-to-five hours a night. The CEOs of Levi-Strauss, IBM Watson and JP Morgan Private Banking were all forthcoming about the importance of sleep to their performance. Many leaders spoke to the benefits of daily meditation — ideally twice, not just once — and how that enhanced performance. These CEOs are forthcoming about these practices and determined to set a positive example for their employees to drive cultures of wellness.
- Prevention Is Key: Prevention — whether through better nutrition, employers who are supportive of fitness and who model the behavior they want to see, or the delivery of prophylaxis under the skin to protect populations from HIV infection (as Intarcia is doing with Gates Foundation funding) — received significant attention. Intarcia has found a way to make medicines that would normally break down in a matter of hours stable for 3.5 years — combining stability technology, delivery technology and medicine — producing a new way to potentially prevent disease as well as address the age-old issue of compliance for chronic diseases.
- Multitasking Hurts Performance: Fortune’s Cliff Leaf tells us the average person checks email at least 72 times a day. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that we have evolved to have no tolerance for boredom and a constant need for stimulation. In an exercise that clearly showed the limits of trying to write and converse at the same time, Alan Murray, Time, Inc.’s Chief Content Officer, and Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, made it abundantly clear that we are wrong when we suggest that doing multiple things at once does not lead to reduced quality. Dr. Gazzaley suggests that physical activity, as well as behavioral therapy in which we wean ourselves off our technology, starting with even short periods of time, are what’s required — but also offers up therapeutic video games to help restore mindfulness.
- The Doctor Will “See” You Now: Doctors on Demand is using telemedicine to operate like a hospital with no walls, having started four years ago to address issues of access and affordability of care. But they won’t do a telephone consultation – recognizing how much eye contact matters and is an essential part of any doctor/patient consultation.
It’s a fascinating dichotomy and time for medicine. We’ve moved far beyond what once seemed to be futuristic technology with solutions that can help researchers and clinicians leverage massive data sets. We’re experiencing an explosion of genomic and, now, sensor data.
Oncology is starting to deliver on the promise of precision medicine, drug makers are exploring how to use artificial intelligence and deep learning to mine electronic health records and understand disease trajectories, and patients will be better served as a result.
The technology is mind-boggling, but even with the great enhancements in knowledge and speed to diagnosis and treatment that it offers, many speakers came back to the theme that medicine remains an art as much as a science. The robots are coming — but human behavior, and the human touch, remain central to controlling and treating what ails us.
Kym White is global sector chair, Health.
Todd Ringler is U.S. managing director, Media.