The Next Wave Of Healthcare Innovation

In 2010, Internet scholar Clay Shirky wrote an interesting book called “Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators.” His premise was simple yet powerful: The ongoing migration of people from passive pursuits (Shirky particularly calls out watching TV) to more engaging pursuits enabled by the Internet and other digital technologies is igniting an era of “collective creativity” where people are able to connect and aggregate their efforts toward positive ends. Examples of the output from this collective creativity include Wikipedia, the open source software movement, and the myriad companies that have used the Web for crowdsourcing (i.e., online group collaboration) consumer inputs to co-create new products and services.

“Abundance” — Activating the Crowd for Good Works

Now, a new book called “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think,” by Peter Diamandis (the founder of the nonprofit X PRIZE Foundation whose mission is to stimulate investment in R&D through incentive prize competitions) builds on Shirky’s premise by proposing that this cognitive surplus is starting to be harnessed in ways that will significantly raise global living standards.

Diamandis’ theory is that this collective creativity will soon reach a tipping point (to wit, a point of “abundance”) in a way that activates the intellectual capital and resources on a scale needed to solve intractable problems like hunger and disease. Diamandis sees the confluence of three macro-trends behind this transformation:

  • The exponential growth and accessibility of computer processing power
  • The do-it-yourself ethos of the Internet culture
  • And, the “rising billions” represented by the world’s poor who are coming online en masse thanks to the dropping cost of digital hardware and the growing ubiquity of mobile networks

Abundance and Health Care Innovation

What does all this have to do with health care innovation? Imagine the types of innovation that can be achieved by combining the democratization of clinical data through the open sourcing (i.e., free distribution) of scientific data sets, with the awesome computer processing firepower scientists now have access to over the cloud at minimal cost.

Another example: some countries are leveraging the Internet and mobile networks to bring quality health care to their poorest rural communities. For instance, India uses a combination of digital technologies like SMS, mobile phone cameras and remote monitoring systems to treat kidney disease patients in isolated communities at a cost that is roughly 90% less than traditional treatments. The real kicker is that these rural patients frequently have better outcomes than their urban counterparts who receive in-person treatments on an outpatient basis.

Diamandis’ vision is a bit rosy but by no means unrealistic—considering that today we carry smartphone devices in our pockets the size of a deck of cards that have roughly the same processing power that a mainframe computer the size of a 12×12 room had 40 years ago!

Click on the below links to purchase the books mentioned in this blog post:

Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers Into Collaborators

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think

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