HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf: Silver Tsunami is driving global health innovation

The global aging population may be straining healthcare's resources, but could also be what pushes digital health innovations, Wolf said at Health 2.0.
By Laura Lovett
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Healthcare faces the massive challenge of an aging population, which means not only caring for patients with chronic illness but finding the resources to care for this population. However, this worldwide challenge could be what pushes the industry toward innovation, Hal Wolf, HIMSS CEO explained at Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, California this morning.

In the US 49 percent of healthcare costs are covered by the government, yet as the ‘Silver Tsunami’ continues, that cost is expected to leap to 53 percent. But the problem isn’t just money, it is also the lack of manpower and skilled providers to take care of the aging population. Currently there is a gap of 7 million healthcare professionals, but that gap is only expected to grow, he said. 

“That is why purely and simply … every healthcare system in the globe is trying to figure out how they are going to use innovation to take all of these disparate and disconnected components [and] bring them back together, so we can deliver care to rising populations, that are going to be sicker,” Wolf said. “That is what is siting behind the rising investment digital health. It is not something that is going to easily burst because the drivers that sit behind it are not the evaluations themselves as much as the socioeconomic drivers.”

Many are looking towards data as a way to solve problems in healthcare, as more and more of it becomes readily available. But data alone isn’t the solution, Wolf said. 

“Data is fundamentally useless until you turn it into information,” Wolf said. “Until you take the data that is ones and zeros and categorize it, and put it into digestible chunks, we do not have the ability to use it the way we want to. If you think about your own apps or apps you’ve worked with, it is about taking that data and turning it into information … that information when you do comparative analysis turns itself into knowledge. This is where knowledge management is so important because it creates standards and targets and goals. There is inside knowledge and outside knowledge. Then finally when we apply little bits of data targeted against clinical utilities or capabilities or services that is what we deliver to the healthcare system.”

Healthcare is often behind on innovation. Wolf said the system is playing catchup to other industries in someways. For example, he said that his dog had a registry at its vet before his son had one at his doctor's. That doesn’t mean healthcare should catch up to old technology — rather, should be looking towards new better innovation like a segmented personalized registry. For example, a patient being treated for breast cancer shouldn’t get a breast screening reminder. 

But it isn’t just the healthcare systems that are looking to change. Wolf also stressed that patients are becoming more engaged and informed about their health. 

“The individual and the consumer are going to grab apps on their own, and manage [what] they are looking for because they aren’t waiting for the medical model to catch up,” Wolf said. 

But the confluence of an aging population and more educated consumers means that transformational change in healthcare is coming down the pipeline, he said. 

“If we think the healthcare industry has a chance to innovate incrementally, they do not,” Wolf said.  “We did not move from the candle to the light bulb with an intermediate stop of a candle inside a light bulb — it was a fundamental, shift and a significant shift, we are going to have to balance.”

Focus on Innovation

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