Davos Was Down With Health Care

155787353Fresh from Davos, Vincent A. Forlenza, WG’80, CEO, president and chairman of Becton, Dickinson and Co., has sharp observations to share.

One has to do with an intriguing, and disturbing, question: What are the only two industries without sustainable business models, meaning the costs are annually outstripping the ability of consumers to pay them? The answer: education (which explains the rise of MOOCs and other online higher learning) and health care.

Another of Forlenza’s observations (and take it with a grain of salt given that he’s been in health care at BD since he left Wharton) is the observable eminence of the topic of health care at the World Economic Forum. At Davos, organizers used to plan tracks to tackle the developing world’s infectious diseases. Now, the focus is on the growing worldwide threat of chronic incommunicable conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Forlenza estimates that as many as one-fifth of all sessions at the WEF focused on health care. There wasn’t just one track. The topic crossed all session groupings, all sectors.

“It has become the dominant theme … how we’re going to create a sustainable business model,” Forlenza told attendees at the Wharton Health Care Business Conference during his keynote address on Feb. 15, 2013.

Forlenza brought back takeaways from one part of the WEF health care programming: a comparison of various countries’ health care systems and their goals for 2040. He discussed five nations:

• China claims a system in which the government secures access and ensures the quality of care.

Vincent A. Forlenza, WG’80

Vincent A. Forlenza, WG’80

• England aims for a system in which most care will be delivered at home.

• Germany strives to be a global leader in health care information technology.

• Spain’s goal is a system in which disease is predicted and prevented.

• The Netherlands’ focus is on individual responsibility.

The Dutch approach surprised Forlenza the most. Like Germans, the Dutch want to be leaders in information technology—indeed, the “Bloomberg” of health, said Forlenza.

Yet most compelling is that the Dutch foresee health care to be not a right, but a responsibility, by 2040. And by that point, insurance would only be used to essential services. Is that progress, or a return to how health care used to be done?

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