This industry is in the midst of change, full of positive disruption and rapid innovation that is driven primarily by the adoption of technology, ideas and techniques from other sectors.
New philosophies are changing not just our ambitions for healthcare, but the way healthcare is delivered, with a more holistic and less invasive approach taking centre stage. New products are harnessing technology and communication to enable more personalised treatment and produce more accurate solutions.
So, what are the key trends and philosophies driving this new era of healthcare forward?
1. Striving for moon shots
In the recent past, big investments in healthcare innovation have centred on improving what exists, rather than coming up with something new, largely because doing something really new carries more risk - not ideal when your company needs to guarantee shareholder returns.
However, politics in the US have highlighted a growing shift in focus towards 'moon shots', meaning triumphs that will completely revolutionise treatment, rather than dabbling round the edges.
Another factor driving this change in ambition is the growing involvement of technology super-companies in this sector. Organisations like Google, Apple and IBM have a history of leadership through breaking the mould. They're focused on the big goals, not the small ones, and the partnerships they're creating with healthcare companies big and small are triggering significant developments.
Indeed, Google has created Calico, an R&D company with the bold aim to prolong life. Its Verily incubator division is helping healthcare innovators to fast-forward their development while its DeepMind Health uses big data analytics to drive transformative innovation and personalisation in medicine. IBM Watson also has a similar goal.
Apple, meanwhile, is using the ubiquity of its devices with 'wearable tracking' functionality to help healthcare companies harness clinical data from live users - an approach set to transform the world of clinical trials.
2. Holistic treatment
Another shift in philosophy can be seen in the healthcare industry's move towards a more holistic approach to healthcare delivery. The aim is increasingly to prevent and restore, rather than cure and replace, and this comprehensive philosophy focuses treatment around the individual rather than the illness.
Partnerships between technology super-companies and healthcare companies are triggering significant developments
Traditionally, healthcare processes dealt in 'incidents' instead of looking at the long-term treatment and recovery process. However, a change in approach is increasingly necessary as the dominant type of disease has shifted from transmutable to inherited or lifestyle-related chronic conditions. This calls for a different approach as it's usually a case of manage, not cure.
The holistic approach permeating healthcare looks set to change the mindset behind treatment, and we're already seeing this shift filter through to medical payment systems. For example, the growing trend for healthcare payers such as insurers to pay for treatment as a bundled budget for each patient rather than an itemised list of hospital costs.
An integrated approach to healthcare
Technology companies are also recognising the need for a wider perspective in healthcare, as they harness big data to identify patterns in patient responses to treatments. This changing approach is also reflected in national 'population level' projects, like Change4life in the UK, which often use behavioural economics techniques to nudge people into leading healthier lifestyles so they're less likely to become ill.
Likewise, in smaller corporate 'populations', companies like Fitbit and Apple Watch are going head-to-head with traditional occupational health and wellness schemes. They're building services around their gadgets, for example employees offered a Fitbit for £25 but only if they hit their fitness goals. They're also offering this to corporates within a full service management package.
3. Reducing invasive techniques
The philosophies underlying transformative health increasingly recognise that the human body is an amazing machine and it's therefore more effective to try to restore the body rather than replace parts of it. Consequently, we're seeing a rise in less drastic medical interventions, such as regenerative cell therapies and the use of dissolving heart scaffolds rather than metal ones.
This overriding drive for treatments to be less invasive is particularly being applied to surgery, where the trend is to be less about going in and cutting up and more about interfering as little as possible. This is reflected in, for example, keyhole surgery, diabetes monitoring machines with pain-free sensors (instead of skin piercings) and cataract lenses designed to go through microscopic incisions.
Ultimately, the purpose of transformative health is to change our lives for the better. The companies driving this change are driven by the desire to make a real difference to human lives, have the audacity to ask “why can't we do things better?” and the confidence to bring in new ways of thinking, often from beyond the sector.