During childhood many of us experimented with mixing various ingredients together to create something new and remarkable. Our curiosity drove us to ask questions until something interesting happened…often times causing a mess. The same curiosity drives our medical research that improves health and the economy. Almost every week we read about a medical study that discovers new things about diseases or new forms of medical treatment, therefore its safe to say that research is a societal good and saves lives. Yet federal funding for research in the United States is on the decline. Healthcare is a knowledge industry and we still choose to cut federal funding for biomedical research year after year in order to reduce the deficit, affecting scientists and placing patients lives at risk.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the worlds leading medical research institute and heads the federal government’s efforts in biomedical research. NIH-funded research plays a critical role in the improvement of physical and mental health, which in turn delivers societal economic benefits. The NIH’s budget for fiscal year 2014 was 11.7% below the fiscal year 2004 peak, slowing the pace of research and innovation. The shrinking investment also affects young scientists and future generation medicines. New causes and treatments could go unexplored, positioning the U.S. to lose its status as the world leader in research and development. The problem will only worsen without leadership and action. John Porter, chair of Research!America, believes that inspiration is needed to bolster public appreciation for science and support for making federal funding for research a very high national priority. Scientists and local communities need to engage with each other and be less divided. A poll commissioned by Research!America showed that few Americans can name a living scientist or institution where research takes place. How is this possible? We have more access to medical information and technology than ever before, increasing global demand for better health advances and outcomes.
BUILDING A HEALTHCARE INFRASTRUCTURE
Its exciting to see the possibilities that a digital health system has to offer, but the proper resources are needed if we plan on reshaping the future of care. If researchers are receiving less federal funding every year, then why would the federal government invest nearly $30 billion into modernizing the healthcare industry? This investment includes incentivizing hospitals to shift to digital health records. While about 62 percent of all U.S. health providers have adopted the technology, very few can actually share their digital files with other hospitals and providers—a feature that is required in order to receive financial incentives from the government (Ehley, 2015). The healthcare system provides new opportunities for communication and information technology, but the costs are found to be overinflated. Bruce Broussard, CEO of Humana, wrote in a blog post that consumers, physicians, hospitals, and health care professionals are currently paying the price for our fragmented, disconnected system (2015). In an upcoming publication of the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, researchers suggest that instead of addressing new health information technology policy challenges as individual entities, it is time to collaborate across all levels of public health to create a shared information platform that will serve common needs and leverage ideas and resources toward a common vision (Jarris, 2015).
Access to healthcare and affordability is an issue right now and careful change is needed. Although information is everywhere, health information can be difficult to determine what classifies as reliable information. Change is understandably hard and often times met with resistance. It is not easy to adapt to change quickly and as we continue towards a connected healthcare environment, resistance will be a risk. But healthcare is smart; we can do it. We are natural lifelong learners…it will just take time and proper resources. The new digital health environment will connect consumers, researchers, and healthcare professionals to better exchange ideas and make informed decisions. A demanding market gives us the opportunity to improve health education and increase public awareness. It is the only way to improve our populations overall health.
The scientific community appears to be invisible to the common American, and that reflects on some of the top leading causes of death in the U.S. each year. In a 2015 report by The American Journal of Medicine, almost 92 percent of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from one or more chronic diseases, including diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. The report also suggests that by 2020 almost 48 percent of Americans will be suffering from some type of chronic disease. In 2013, eight of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States were curable through better scientific research and public education. The top ten leading causes of death are listed below:
- Heart disease: 611,105
- Cancer: 584,881
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
- Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
- Diabetes: 75,578
- Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149
Patients are undoubtedly the most underused resource. In order to utilize the patient as a resource reliably self-awareness must be established. Creating an environment that promotes good health for all will change habits in the direction of healthier living. This results in healthy development and a better quality of life. Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are responsible for much of the disease and death from the leading chronic diseases. A 2013 article in the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease journal, researchers found that more than 70.0 percent of deaths in the United States and about 75.0 percent of health care spending costs are attributable to chronic diseases (Ford, 2013).
The opportunity for health begins long before medical care is needed. Albert Rizzo, M.D., senior medical advisor for the American Lung Association openly endorses that It’s always better to prevent a disease than to treat it (2015). So let’s continue making healthcare better through encouraged patient communication and involvement. An engaged patient create and educated patient and an educated patient creates an educated population. Preventive medicine and biomedical research are key drivers in helping improve lifestyle patterns, while relieving a long-term economic problem. In the end the best medical decision can only be made if everyone involved is informed, empowered, and engaged.