There is no aspect of the medical community that Convergence in Healthcare will not touch. From more accurate diagnoses and disease prevention methods to better health analytics and drug therapies, convergence is the most promising way to meet the increasingly complex demands of human health.
The obstacles standing in the way of successful Convergence in Healthcare can best be separated into three primary groupings: challenges of industry, challenges of education, and challenges of government. Below, the three primary challenges facing convergence are explored to give the reader a better understanding of what must be overcome to improve healthcare in communities worldwide.
Slow Evolution of the U.S. Medical Research Industry
The important thing to note about the challenges that the convergence revolution faces on an industry level is that the need for this healthcare overhaul is irrefutably there. Scientific and medical communities everywhere are faced with a need for more efficient research and product development, more comprehensive care for patients and more affordable tools for performing life-saving work.
There is a growing global demand for convergence-related technologies such as data analytics, companion diagnostics, nanotechnology, DNA sequencing and sensor technologies, among many others. Additionally, new convergence technologies are posited as the answer to complex medical issues every year.
In terms of leading the innovating research and development necessary to meet the growing medical needs of the modern population, the United States is still the front-running country in many respects. But if Convergence in Healthcare is to become the rule in the medical community instead of the exception, the U.S. must take two actions.
First, it must wholly embrace Convergence in Healthcare from the ground floor, up. Second, it must put forth more effort in to maintaining its position as the global leader in health technology, less it lose this designation and subsequently its ability to contribute momentum to the worldwide convergence revolution. Since the 1950s, the global medical research community has looked to the United States as one of the primary sources of innovative research in the health care sector. That role remains important today even as it is threatened by international competition.
While the U.S. is still considered by most to be the leading country in world healthcare in terms of both innovation and scale, it could lose this position unless it alters two fundamental drivers of the healthcare sector: education and government. This brings the reader to the next major challenge that Convergence in Healthcare faces.
Disjointed Educational Systems
Even as articles have been written for years in the United States about the advantages that a full focus on Convergence in Healthcare could bring, education has yet to follow suit. To create a medical community that completely embraces convergence, the U.S. must do two things with regard to its approach to education.
First, the United States must work to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers among young students. A 2015 report from National Student Clearinghouse indicated that the number of American college students graduating with STEM degrees increased between 2004 and 2014. However, more recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that, among other industrialized countries, the U.S. is declining in STEM education.
American students were shown to have lower scores on tests in mathematics literacy than students from 36 other countries. Additionally, their scores on science literacy tests were lower than those of students from 18 other countries. Without stronger curricula in STEM subjects as well as better promotion of STEM studies, the U.S. is poised to face a shortage of more than 1 million professionals in STEM by 2024, leading to fewer professionals contributing to Convergence in Healthcare.
The second issue that Convergence in Healthcare encounters with regards to the U.S. educational system is that the current undergraduate programs in both medical and STEM fields do not teach contemporary students how to work in convergence fields. Most institutions adhere to traditional modes of instruction that suffer from strict departmental divides, preventing students from learning valuable tools that would allow them to naturally embrace convergence as working professionals post-graduation. Compounding this problem further is the way that funding for projects students undertake at the graduate and post-doctoral levels is distributed by the U.S. government. This leads to the third challenge standing in the way of convergence.
Outdated Government Policies
The Obama administration spurred the creation of a number of convergence-friendly projects, including the Cancer Moonshot and The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. However, the American government’s overall approach to Convergence in Healthcare is far from comprehensive. When adjusted for inflation, funding for research and development for the whole of the healthcare sector is lower today than it was 15 years ago.
The limited capital allotted to healthcare research in the United States significantly limits the number of grants that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can give out. This makes it even less likely that the already underfunded research dedicated specifically to convergence is approved. Convergence research is not the focus of any major government agency awarding grants. As a result, proposals for research in this area are up against more conventional, and therefore more intellectually palatable, competition.
The longer that the United States fails to address these challenges, the more of its influence it relinquishes to international competition. Governments of Asian countries such as China, Japan and India increase their investments in spending for medical research and development by almost 10 percent each year. Students, medical professionals and government agencies in the United States must endeavor to shift focus quickly to secure the future of Convergence in Healthcare, and thereby the future of human health as a whole.