Healthcare is broken, but the time is finally right to fix it.

That was the general theme at the 15th Annual World Health Congress which took place in Washington DC on April 29 – May 2nd. The event attracted attendees from all over the US including Melon who hosted a session on patient engagement using digital health technologies.

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The purpose of the Congress is to bring together decision makers from payer, provider, pharmaceutical, government, and solutions organisations to inspire partnerships and defragment the current health care system. Attendees share strategic initiatives and results to try and overcome access and affordability issues while delivering high-value care.

New strategic initiatives and innovation are sorely needed. Spending on healthcare in the US balooned to $3.3 trillion in 2016, representing 18% of gross domestic product. Every day in the US 10,000 people enrol in Medicare, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said unlike other parts of the economy, knowing how much things will cost in health care is “a big mystery”. Her administration wants to require hospitals to post prices for procedures online. “We have a long way to go”, she said.

Government officials and industry leaders alike seemed hopeful that innovation in technology and how we pay for drugs could help finally control costs and improve patient outcomes. Any improvements could take a while, but they’re optimistic they’re coming.

“We all know change represents opportunity,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in his keynote address. “So I exhort all of you to engage with us on the efforts I’ve discussed today and take advantage of the opportunities they represent. Because I assure you, in American healthcare, change is possible, change is necessary, and change is coming.”

AI also featured in discussions, but the general view was that it would only be implemented where it could prove a measurable reduction in staff costs which accounts for 60% of hospital costs. There was also concern with the potential to ‘dehumanise’ healthcare using machines. Such hesitancy perhaps highlights the limited understanding of AI and machine learning which is being used in many of America’s top hospitals already, in predicative analytics and health trackers.

It was encouraging to hear hospital CEO’s and government policy makers concede that the answers lie in innovation and new strategies, because with the Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, JP Morgan alliance, and google’s Verily Life Sciences, healthcare as we know it is going to change and it’ll be up to hospitals and payers to keep up.