IBM reception will focus on healthcare's "grand challenge"

By Jeff Rowe
08:16 AM

Traditionally, economic development discussions have revolved around issues such as levels of taxation, the cost of capital and the condition of a region’s or country’s infrastructure.

It seems safe to say, however, that healthcare hasn’t typically been part of the conversation. Until now, that is.

On Monday, Feb. 24, from 4:30 - 6:30 p.m at the 2014 HIMSS Annual Conference & Exhibition, IBM will be sponsoring a reception that will include a panel discussion that looks at the growing understanding of how healthcare considerations – meaning both the quality of health of a region’s citizens and the effectiveness of a region’s healthcare system – need to be an integral part of any economic development policy.

The discussion springs in large part from the work of the IBM Institute for Business Value, which in the fall of 2013 released a white paper entitled, “Improving economic competitiveness and vitality: A smarter approach to economic development.”

“What makes a nation, a region or a city a compelling place to live, work and do business?” the paper presents as the core question for economic development stakeholders. In considering a response, the paper notes that as they grow, “Cities, regions and countries are also seeking to achieve positive environmental outcomes and grow in a sustainable manner that ensures the long-term well-being of citizens and organizations.”

And a big piece of the “long-term well-being of citizens”  involves the healthcare system.

In explaining the connection between healthcare and economic development, Dan Pelino, general manager, IBM Public Sector, pointed to projections that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in 200 cities, as well as projections that by 2050 there will be 1.5 billion people over the age of 65.

Add to that, he said, the World Bank’s goal of reducing the percentage of the world’s population living in poverty from 33% to 3%, and what you end up with is “the rise of a (global) middle class that is becoming older and looking for services as they decide where to commit their time, talents, and treasure.”

In other words, where they choose to live, work and raise their families.  And “a cornerstone” of the considerations they factor into their decisions, he concluded, “will be healthcare.”

Given that convergence of considerations, Pelino said, “it’s critical that economic developers build the right infrastructure,” to attract and sustain that population, “and healthcare is at the top of the list” of the critical infrastructural elements.

In practical terms, the most immediate effect of the growing recognition of the connection between healthcare and economic development may be to provide a broader context in which to consider the evolution of healthcare systems.

In other words, all the usual healthcare discussions – concerning connectivity, coordination of care and how best to make use of new mobile technologies, to name just a few – will continue, but increasingly those discussions will be joined by stakeholders focused on understanding and communicating how changes in healthcare will impact the larger and longer terms condition of entire regions and countries.

The main purpose of the IBM reception at HIMSS14, Pelino said, is “to bring that conversation further out into the public.”

“We like grand challenges,” Pelino said of IBM.

Helping prepare the world’s healthcare system for the world’s economic future may be the grandest challenge yet.

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