According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-sponsored report “Convergence: The Future of Health,” the life sciences sector is currently undergoing its third significant revolution. The catalyst for past revolutions can be traced back to the invention of new tools or to groundbreaking discoveries. However, the third revolution is rooted in the growth of a movement with the potential to change the way discoveries and tools to improve the condition of global human health are made. This movement is Convergence in Healthcare.
By definition, Convergence in Healthcare is the integration of experts from the life sciences, computational sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering sectors. This creates one large, cohesive network of professionals to address human health issues from a wider range of perspectives than before. It is a bold movement that asks members of the science sector to completely rethink the way research is conducted in the name of finding better and more effective ways to prevent, treat and diagnose common illnesses and ailments.
While there are many reasons for science professionals to commit to helping the growth of Convergence in Healthcare, the following three points stand as the most important motives for members of the scientific community at every level to work toward its success.
Healthcare costs and rates of illness are rising.
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2.5 million Americans die every year. The 10 most common causes of death in order of descending prevalence are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, injury caused by accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disorders and suicide.
Rates of these illnesses as well as other forms of chronic disease continue to rise in the U.S. population and are expensive for medical professionals to treat. Based on data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, national health expenditures reached $3.3 trillion in 2016, up from $3 trillion two years prior. The agency predicts this trend to continue to rise even more rapidly at a rate of 5.5 percent every year, reaching $5.7 trillion by 2026 and annually growing 1 percent faster than America’s GDP.
These costs are not only unsustainable for U.S. citizens, they threaten to lower America’s competitiveness in the global healthcare sector. The most significant cost control measure is innovation leading to the development of more affordable diagnostic tools and prevention methods for patients of all ages. Affordable healthcare tools and pioneering discoveries via innovation is the core mission of the Convergence in Healthcare movement. Additionally, it is the best chance the United States has to provide its citizens with quality care at a reasonable price.
The United States is falling behind other developed nations in medical research.
As detailed in “Convergence: The Future of Health,” the United States is the largest funder of research and development for the medical sector in the world. However, current investments are not enough to keep up with the escalating rates of disease or the rate of economic inflation the country has seen in recent years.
Additionally, math and science literacy among American grade school students are declining. Simultaneously, mathematic and scientific literacy in countries from parts of the world such as Asia are steadily increasing. At the undergraduate level, American students are increasingly abandoning degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, while almost 50 percent of undergraduates in China receive a degree in science or engineering.
Many investment dollars in Asia also go directly toward research focused on convergence. While China has yet to match biomedical research funding levels of the United States, the country’s commitment to growth in this sector is on a path to become the next global leader in healthcare. This may draw top talent away from U.S. research institutions and universities, potentially limiting the effectiveness of the U.S. healthcare sector.
The Convergence in Healthcare movement is the most dynamic and deployable approach to increase the prestige and success of American medical research efforts. The document “Convergence: The Future of Health,” suggests numerous strategies to set the convergence revolution in motion. These include funding for convergent education at all levels of the American educational system, as well as increasing funding for medical research on multiple fronts.
Top U.S. institutions of higher learning are already trending toward convergence.
Convergence in Healthcare is yet to become a mainstream approach to healthcare research. However, its viability as an answer to some of the most pressing healthcare problems in the U.S. can be seen in the fact that some of the country’s most prestigious institutions already embrace it.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and leaders from academic institutions such as Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Texas at Austin have chosen to create different programs and learning opportunities based on convergence for their students. In addition, technology companies such as Google, Apple and IBM are investing in projects that employ convergence to create new products to improve the quality of health data available to medical professionals and widen the pool of research from which medical scientists can learn about human health.
Convergence in Healthcare is a worthwhile movement to support in its own right, but the support it maintains from leading institutions and the greatest minds in the United States should contribute to its reputation. With the full support of academia, the whole of the science industry and the U.S. government, Convergence in Healthcare could be the health revolution to radically improve the lives of Americans and pave the U.S. medical community’s path to success.