Notes from the G20: Healthy Nations, Sustainable Economies

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Using innovation and technology to drive health equity and better outcomes for all

Author: Dr Terry Sweeney, Managing Director, IBM Watson Health

Dr Terry SweeneyI was delighted to be invited by the Right Honourable Lord Cunningham (UK House of Lords) to speak at the G20 Health and Development Partnership in Japan last week. I want to congratulate the Japanese Presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) nations for placing global health at the centre of the 2019 G20 Summit agenda.

The theme, ‘Healthy Nations, Sustainable Economies’ outlines the need to invest in human capital and create a holistic approach to healthcare, in a new priority for government and society. The G20 Presidency has outlined the importance of using innovation and technology to underpin its major sustainable development goal (SDG) “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all – at all ages” by 2030.

My contribution to the lively debate focused on the challenges and opportunities in using innovation and technology to support universal healthcare by 2030. Innovative technology, including the advent of digital health technologies, provide immense opportunity to deliver on this important G20 goal.

Technology can improve access to, as well as monitoring, sharing and use of, quality data, to direct citizen, payer, provider and government engagement. Technology will empower health heroes to deliver improved outcomes for patients. It will help to personalise precision medicine, tailoring prevention and treatment of individual patients based on their genetic code. Furthermore, technology will play a pivotal role in addressing an ageing population, that is having a profound impact on global healthcare spend – predicted to increase to $10 trillion in 2019 alone.

At G20 Japan 2019

At G20 Japan 2019

My call to action for the G20 Heads of State and Government is to recognise the importance of Artificial Intelligence and frontier digital technologies in combatting the most pressing health challenges in the burden of disease. These include cancer care, ageing populations, chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the advent of connected, people-centric precision medicine.

A key takeaway for me is the greater notion of the role of public and private partnerships and how they engage government and the private sector (including big-tech such as IBM Watson Health). Non-government organisations (NGOs) are also essential participants in providing enhanced governance of the policies and programs in G20 nations and beyond. By doing so, they can deliver on the commitment to use innovation and technology to address key health and care challenges around the globe.

The Health and Finance Ministers of the G20 held their first ever G20 joint meeting, emphasising the important link between both disciplines. It is essential that the health and wealth of nations are united in delivering inclusive growth amongst G20 countries.

In order to deliver on aggressive targets to address the worlds key health challenges, we must examine innovative and blended finance models, that are scalable, to supplement current investment in health innovation. This must include participation from international organisations, philanthropic partners and non-traditional actors, such as big-tech.

All of this must be underpinned by greater data harmony between nations, allowing free flow of data across borders. Technologies such as blockchain, cybersecurity and cloud can all support the safeguarding of personal data. With the right messaging and models in place, I am convinced individuals will see the benefits, and consent to their (anonymised) data being used for themselves and for the greater good.


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