At this moment, 82% of the US population lives in urban areas. By the year 2050, two thirds of the entire world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston- five cities that together hold a third of all Fortune 500 headquarters and half of Fortune 500 firms’ profits last year. Supercities such as these, especially those that sit on coasts, are bringing in young, educated workers from rural and suburban areas at a rapid pace. As a result, these cities are thriving. They’re becoming wealthier, more ethnically diverse, employment continues to rise, and opportunities for innovation and technological advancements are endless. Meanwhile, for those who remain in rural and suburban areas, the pattern is very different. In Pikeville, Kentucky for example, 1 in 3 people make less than $12,000 a year. Pikeville was once a prosperous coal town but has been rapidly losing jobs and residents over the years. Kids growing up there face the harsh reality of knowing there is not much opportunity left for them once they finish school, although 90% don’t want to leave in order to find a job. Non-supercity municipalities are falling behind, into the shadows of these towering Super Cities. This trend only continues to further the cultural and socioeconomic divide as well as add to the number of health disparities that are currently affecting the lives of millions of people.
The need for changing and improving healthcare in our country is arguably one of the most important topics right now- one with the highest need for reform that has the biggest potential for innovation and impact. So how do we help bridge the enormous gaps that exist throughout the country? The answer is technology. Established as well as emerging companies within these supercities are working to improve access to care at an affordable price while at the same time maintaining the highest quality of care.
Access and affordability are the overarching themes related to health disparities in the US- access to and affordability of care, resources, education, jobs. Rural and suburban America are among the most impacted parts of the country as it relates to healthcare. Almost 70% of the country’s poor population lives outside of major metropolitan areas with suburbs accounting for 48% of the increase in the national poverty rate over the past 15 years. Residents in these areas have higher rates of poverty and are less likely to have health insurance. They are also more likely to die from one of the top five leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries- car accidents and opioid overdoses, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke) compared to those living in urban areas. Drug and alcohol abuse, cancers related to modifiable risk factors, youth and veteran suicide are also seen in higher numbers. The kicker here: many of these can be treated and/or even prevented with better access and more affordable care.
Let’s look a bit more at healthcare in the US by the numbers:
The US spends almost 50% more per person on healthcare compared to the 10 other high-income countries (UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark)
Life expectancy in the US is the lowest and infant mortality is the highest out of the above countries.
About 64% of Americans have avoided or delayed medical care in the past year due to cost.
About 22% of Americans have completely missed a consultation because they could not afford it, compared to an average of 11% between the 10 other countries.
There is higher utilization of diagnostic imaging in the US
Average cost of an MRI in the US: $1,145 compared to $350 in Australia, $461 in the Netherlands
Americans go to the hospital fairly infrequently compared to most other countries at 126 visits per 1,000 people; Germany, in comparison has the highest number of visits with 252 per 1,000
As you can see, the healthcare numbers in this country simply do not add up. Although quality of care is certainly comparable to other countries around the globe, Americans are actually receiving less care but at an extremely higher cost. Health outcomes are not justifying the large costs and as long as the US remains at the top of the list for having the “least accessible healthcare system” these numbers will not improve. So how does one possibly start to solve this? That’s where technology and innovation come in. The healthcare industry in the United States is ripe for change and the time is now.
The wave of digital health and virtual care is here and it will only continue to grow and gain more momentum in the healthcare space. More companies are starting to tackle this issue and innovate in ways to reach the most amount of people with the least amount of cost and are doing so especially by bringing care directly to your home.
Is the hospital too far and the cost of transportation to get there too high? Then let’s bring the care to you, right in your own home. The longer a person waits to receive care because they are unable to afford it, the sicker they will likely become which means their costs will only continue to rise when they start to need more testing, treatment and medication later on down the road. So, why don’t we avoid this part of the process all together and treat someone before they get sick? Let’s educate the masses about the importance of healthy eating for example, and the proper amount of daily exercise they need in order to prevent obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the first place. Let’s show them exactly which foods to keep stocked in their refrigerator, auto-deliver them to their house and walk them through specific exercises they can do daily at home. How about we annually check their blood pressure, heart rhythm, and blood levels while we’re at it so that we can provide a health assessment with recommendations regarding proper preventative health measures.
Companies in supercities are developing solutions to these key issues and questions as we speak. With the development of their new technology, virtual health along with more care in the home is rapidly becoming the answer to the important questions regarding how to improve education and access, reach large populations of people and do so in a more efficient and cost effective way. It has implications in more remote areas where we know access and resources are limited, as well as all types of populations across the country. Only time will tell just how much this will impact healthcare in our country overall but as it stands right now, the opportunities and amount of impact to be made seem to be truly endless.