Long, healthy lives will change Korea

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Long, healthy lives will change Korea

Longevity is not enough. A long and healthy life increasingly matters. Although the average life expectancy has risen to around 80 years in advanced economies, healthy life expectancy, a person’s time in “full health” - excluding the years seriously affected by disease and/or injury - is 71 to 72 years. And rising medical costs needed to take care of aging populations are a burden on both individuals and their governments.

To address these issues, health care is entering a whole new era.

Previous efforts in health care focused on preventing epidemics and treating diseases. Now, thanks to advances in genetic engineering and the convergence of IT and a range of medical fields, the health care paradigm is moving toward Health care 3.0.

That will revolve around disease management to increase healthy life expectancies. The characteristics of Health care 3.0 can be summarized in a handful of keywords: precision, customization, orientation toward patients and disease management.

Disease detection and surgeries will be done with more precision using new technologies. This will enable pre-emptive treatment at a much earlier stage of a disease or ailment. Subsequent care will be more customized, taking into consideration such factors as genetic traits, and far more effective than standardized drug protocols.

If the keywords are implemented on a wide scale, health care will see such things as customized stem cell treatment for hard-to-cure diseases and monitoring medical conditions with smartphones. It also should help reduce onerous health care costs that will become increasingly burdensome to aging economies, including Korea.

Health care 3.0 is expected to reshape related industries. First, the pharmaceutical industry probably will shift from blockbuster drugs to niche drugs. This is because the number of diseases has increased substantially due to subcategories, reducing the number of potential users of a single drug. Small- and medium-sized pharmaceuticals with expertise in treatment of a certain disease will likely strengthen their business. In Korea, CHAMC is developing a drug to treat retina-related diseases by using stem cells.

Second, in the medical equipment industry, IT convergence will likely spawn new types of digital medical equipment, which may be able to both examine and treat patients.

Along with the emergence of digital medical devices, the accompanying components and software supply chain is attracting attention as a promising industry. Global medical device manufacturer GE Healthcare has acquired component and software capabilities through six M&A deals since 2010.

Third, in the medical service industry, medical services that monitor a patient’s vital signs on a nonstop basis outside hospitals and give advice on drug administration, exercise and diet, will be commercialized. The Internet and social networks will be used as windows of communication between patients and medical service providers. PatientLikeMe, a web community of patients with rare diseases, collectively lobbies medical service providers to develop treatments and drugs. With medical services broadening and becoming more costly, hospitals will attempt to develop nontreatment areas such as disease prevention or become specialists in certain diseases.

What preparation should be made to deal with changes in the health care paradigm? The government should make the extension of healthy life a national goal.

Preventive medicine would promote healthy lifestyles and help suppress national health care costs. Continuous promotion of healthy eating and not smoking has proven effective in curbing the rate of diseases related to obesity and smoking.

As for medical personnel, they should be trained in fields that will deal with the convergence among medical service, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. Regulatory reforms should be made to support the transforming health care industry.

*The writer is a research fellow at the technology and industry research department at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. For more SERI reports, please visit www.seriworld.org.


By Choi Jin-young

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