The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Philips jointly hosted a meeting on strengthening health systems on the sidelines of the recently held World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos, Switzerland. Key opinion leaders in health care from around the world – representing government, business, international organizations, academia and civil society – shared their thoughts on the topic ‘Strengthening health systems through collaboration and innovation’.

Participants deliberated on challenges in the fight against infectious diseases, rise of chronic diseases and access to affordable health care for the world’s growing and aging population. The two key questions addressed at the forum were a) Whether incremental improvements in the health system are still appropriate in a world that is changing so quickly, and b.) Which innovative health solutions can build sustainable health systems based upon the needs of care providers and consumers?

Current healthcare provision in developed and developing countries is struggling with unsustainable pressure from rising demand and costs. Participants agreed that inclusive growth can only happen when economies and healthcare expand together.

Digitization of healthcare was at the heart of the ensuing discussion. It was emphasized that smart connected digital healthcare solutions were the need of the hour. In developing countries, opportunities exist to build new, innovative healthcare systems, leapfrogging the legacy health systems in the developed world.

From inexpensive wearable health tech to smartphone connected health data transmission, ‘quantified self’ data could make it so must easier for doctors to monitor patient’s health. However, monitoring is not enough. Intelligent systems would support people in taking care of themselves.

There will always be sick people who need treatment and to complement technology, there will also be the need for more medical professionals. New low cost mobile technologies are addressing the shortage of care providers by sending expert opinion from doctors through phones to local healthcare providers.

Cost of treatment still comprises of 40-45% of total healthcare expense. It was highlighted that each year 100 million people slide into poverty as a result of medical care payments, and paradoxically, people in the world’s poorest countries contribute relatively more for healthcare than those in wealthy industrialized nations. Power of innovation can perhaps make healthcare more affordable to the poorest and most vulnerable.

The participants concluded that in order to revive healthcare systems and bring care closer to people, a combination of technology, innovation, education and a long term vision is key.