For decades, technology has relentlessly made phones, laptops, apps and entire industries cheaper and better—while health care has stubbornly loitered in an alternate universe where tech makes everything more expensive and more complex.
Now startups are applying artificial intelligence (AI), floods of data and automation in ways that promise to dramatically drive down the costs of health care while increasing effectiveness. If this profound trend plays out, within five to 10 years, Congress won’t have to fight about the exploding costs of Medicaid and insurance. Instead, it might battle over what to do with a massive windfall. Today’s debate over the repeal of Obamacare would come to seem as backward as a discussion about the merits of leeching.
Hard to believe? One proof point is in the maelstrom of activity around diabetes, the most expensive disease in the world. In the U.S., nearly 10 percent of the population has diabetes, around 30 million people. Within a decade, some experts say, the number of diabetics in China will outnumber the entire U.S. population. Most people who suffer from the disease spend $5,000 to $10,000 a year on medication, and diabetics with complications can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on doctor and hospital bills. That and the lost wages of diabetics cost the U.S. alone more than $245 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s an enormous problem to solve — and a pile of potential cash and customers to be won—which is why diabetes is attracting entrepreneurs like ants to a dropped ice cream cone. One of those entrepreneurs is Sami Inkinen. He was a co-founder of the real estate site Trulia and has long been an endurance athlete, competing seriously in triathlons and Ironman events. In 2014, he and his wife rowed from California to Hawaii. None of this fits the typical profile of a diabetic, yet in 2011, soon after yet another triathlon, Inkinen was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. And like many driven, super-smart data geeks, he dove into research to understand everything about his condition.
That journey led him to Dr. Stephen Phinney, a medical researcher at the University of California, Davis, and Jeff Volek, a scientist at Ohio State. Phinney and Volek wrote two books together about low-carbohydrate diets and published scientific papers describing how constant adjustments to diet and lifestyle can reverse diabetes in many patients. Diabetes is almost never treated that way because the program is too hard for most people to stick to. It requires so much coaching and scrutiny by medical professionals, you’d pretty much have to hire a live-in doctor.
By Jon-Paul Pezzolo | Newsweek
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