At Least 6 Extra Years of Higher Quality of Life for Everyone is Within Reach

Good health is critical to leading a productive and enjoyable life. It allows us to spend more time with our loved ones, accomplish more projects and protects us from cognitive or physical impairments.

Over the past century, innovation, and increased investment in financial and human capital as a percentage of GDP drove most of the advances in health care. Since the discovery of the link between diabetes and insulin production in the pancreas, a steady stream of drug discoveries and commercialization transformed the lives of diabetic patients. With the development of new surgical techniques, detection tools, and targeted therapies, cancer mortality in the United States declined by 32% between 1991 and 2019.

Overall, progress in health care has led to longer lives - average life expectancy increased from 54 years in 1960 to 73 years according to the latest estimates. 

Globally lives have gotten longer but not healthier

Despite the spectacular strides made over the past century to extend and improve life, the share of our lives spent in mediocre health is hardly declining over time. On average, people spend about 50% of their lives in less-than-good health, with 12% in poor health, a ratio unchanged over the past 50 years.

Many proven health risks remain insufficiently addressed. There are significant unmet patient needs in oncology, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and brain disorders. Since 1990, the prevalence of mental disorders increased by 55%. By 2050, the prevalence of dementia worldwide is expected to triple, affecting over 150 million people. Concerns also exist about the potential negative health effects of climate change, including food insecurity and infectious diseases.

The Mc Kinsey Health Institute (MHI) estimates that over the next decade, humanity could enjoy as many as 6 extra years of higher quality of life per person (and substantially more in some countries and populations). This is an ambitious goal, but we know that the application of existing, proven clinical interventions on a larger scale could already reduce the global disease burden of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer by about 40%.

We have the wealth, technology, and capacity to achieve the most ambitious health gains

The world's response to Covid-19 demonstrates that breakthrough innovations and profound behavioral changes are possible when intense focus is coupled with resources and collaborative efforts between governments, for-profit organizations, nonprofits, and communities. Within 12 months, Covid-19 went from discovery to global distribution of the finished product. 

Historically, vaccine development is a high-risk process that typically takes more than a decade to complete. Before Covid-19, the fastest vaccine ever developed – for mumps in 1967 – took 4 years from discovery to market launch.

The definition of health has evolved to a more holistic view, with an emphasis on well-being

Historically, society defined health as the presence or absence of disease. Someone was considered "healthy" if the disease did not affect life expectancy or physical function. 

As early as 1948, the World Health Organization suggested that health is a "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The emerging vision of modern health advocates a broader and more holistic definition of health. It recognizes the relevance and interdependencies of 4 health dimensions: physical, mental, social, and spiritual health, as well as a range of factors that influence these dimensions, such as diet, sleep, employment, and housing. 

All 4 health dimensions collectively contribute to longevity and quality of life. Individuals suffer when health fails in even one dimension. For example, evidence suggests that serious mental disorders shorten life expectancy by 10 to 25 years. On the social health dimension, isolation and loneliness are linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. 

An ecosystem approach is key to capturing the full benefits of innovation

To harness innovation and maximize gains in longevity and quality of life, we must rethink how we innovate. This means creating an innovation-friendly ecosystem that fosters interdisciplinary exchange of ideas across all 4 health dimensions and relevant influencers, aligning standards and methods, and engaging all stakeholders who affect goals. This approach aims to establish an integrated partnership to drive effective development, rapid adoption, and scaling of the most promising concepts. 

The Mc Kinsey Health Institute (MHI) believes that achievable results include lifting average quality of life; increasing the portion of life spent in good health; and extending life expectancy beyond the baseline trend. 

What are the shifts in mindset and behaviors society needs to make to realize the full potential of Human Health?

Research suggests that gaining an extra 6 years of quality of life will require significant changes in social mindsets and behaviors. Implementing these changes will represent a significant reorientation of public policy and the economy.

1.     Invest more in disease prevention

Let’s keep in mind that health spending is an investment, not a cost. Currently, health care investments are heavily tilted toward curative care. OECD countries spend only 2.8% of their health budgets on prevention programs such as vaccinations, disease screenings, and health education. 

Governments and private institutions should invest more in areas like education, nutrition, basic research, and technology.

2.     Improve measurement of a modernized understanding of health with better data

Reaching the full potential of human health begins with updating the concept of health in more holistic terms. It also requires improved global standards and measurement systems, more systematic collection of comparative data on all 4 health dimensions and influencing factors, and greater transparency. 

MHI estimates that less than 5% of all influencing factors are standardized, systematically captured, and available as data. It is estimated that 75% of health studies have physical health as their primary endpoint, while just 12% address mental health, 6% social health and 1% spiritual health. Broad categories of influencing factors such as the role of personal attitudes and behaviors (e.g., diet, sleep, etc.), environmental factors, … are also missing. 

3.     Scale what works

Mc Kinsey Global Institute Prioritizing health report estimates that the application of existing, proven clinical interventions on a larger scale could reduce the global burden of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer by about 40%. For example, applying known interventions on a larger scale would allow a 65-year-old to be as healthy as a 55- year-old today.

Experience shows that scaling existing technologies can be very challenging – the global rollout of hepatitis B vaccines took more than 17 years.

4.     Innovate more and faster

The world needs more innovation in all its forms: business models, government policies, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, clinical standards, mobile applications, process improvements, and new technology applications, such as artificial intelligence.

We also have yet to realize the full potential of digital health innovation to improve health outcomes. Promising concepts include wearables (for example, activity tracking, cardiac anomaly detection, patches for blood sugar monitoring, physiotherapy for pain relief with body posture detection), telesurgery, and AI-enabled diagnostics. Telemedicine exploded worldwide in 2020 due to Covid-19; in the United States, it grew by 3,800% in 2020, and some consumers continue to indicate a preference for the practice.

Impactful innovation requires integrated, purposeful action across governments and the private sector. Government action is particularly relevant where the risk of market failure is high, e.g., antibiotics

5.     Unleash the full potential of all industries

Achieving the set aspiration requires institutions outside of the traditional healthcare industry to more aggressively pursue health-related business opportunities. 

Health is deeply relevant to every business in the world, at minimum because employers affect the health of their employees, and the health of their employees affect their performance. Poor employee health costs about $3.5 trillion annually.

6.     Empower individuals to steward their own health

Multiple studies show that modifiable behaviors – including diet, activity level, sleep, medication adherence, and smoking – are responsible for almost 60 percent of deaths worldwide.

Recent experience proves that major changes in behavior are possible. During the Covid-19 pandemic, billions of people significantly altered their daily habits, such as wearing face masks and social distancing, to protect themselves and their families.

Individuals should be empowered to take primary responsibility for their health. The role of healthcare providers would be more about helping their patients implement a jointly defined care plan. Also, they might use technology solutions to offer greater control over their health, including mobile or remote access to optimize exercise, sleep, caloric intake, posture, etc. In 2019, 21% of Americans reported using smart watches or fitness trackers.

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