Growing Older, Aging Better: Healthcare Revolution in Asia and the U.S.

On October 22nd, Asia Society Northern California hosted a discussion of aging populations, innovation, and the future of healthcare in the U.S. and Asia. Moderated by Jane Barratt of the International Federation on Ageing, the panel also included Karen Eggleston (Stanford), Regis Kelly (UC San Francisco) Jorge Puente (Pfizer), and Wei Siang Yu (Borderless Healthcare Group, Singapore).

Panelists agreed that global healthcare faces unprecedented challenges today. The world’s population is aging at an unprecedented rate, demanding changes in policies, practices and infrastructure to handle the growing healthcare needs that inevitably come with age. Providing modern, affordable care to the hundreds of millions of seniors involves a range of practical, financial, intellectual, and ethical hurdles. It requires a concerted effort by policy-makers, the healthcare industry, and the medical community to build a scalable models that provides new levels of care and take advantage of new technologies like medical IT that take extend healthcare beyond hospitals and into homes as well as underserved rural areas.

Rather than bringing people to healthcare, governments and the market are realizing that it can be far cheaper and more practical to bring healthcare to people. People who once spent days getting from remote areas to a major city just for a check-up will be able to video chat with doctors without leaving their homes. Preventative care and education become more feasible and cost-effective. In the case of a medical emergency, consulting a doctor via the internet may well be the difference between life and death for patients in remote areas.The virtualization of healthcare service will also lead to a more competitive global healthcare marketplace.

While conventional wisdom holds that preventative healthcare is vastly preferable to expensive cures, much healthcare today would be more appropriately titled “sick care.” In order to create a sustainable healthcare system for aging populations, nutritional education, and other preventative measures can save billions. The financial advantages could not be more obvious, as age-related diseases account for roughly 90% of healthcare costs. Helping people live longer is vastly more attractive when it means increasing quality of life as well.

As with many cutting-edge technologies, the first iterations will be more expensive, more bug-prone, and less widely available than later versions. Without heavy subsidies, the poor often cannot afford what the rich can enjoy, which raises a host of ethical questions. What technologies and practices should be funded, and by whom? Should the new IP that is created be sold to the highest bidder, or made available to all?

There are no easy answers to such questions, and there will be many different approaches to them, some more effective and helpful than others. In a sense, this diversity can serve as a “living laboratory” for testing out new ideas, technologies, and practices, helping different countries learn from the failures and successes of others. The panel converged on this topic toward the end of the evening, agreeing that not only can the U.S. and Asia learn from each other on how to better develop, deliver, and administer healthcare, but they must.  

Video: Watch the complete program