The Disease Paradigm

Updated: Apr 11

Hi there, I’m from the future.


Well, not exactly. But as an international speaker, I often think and talk about the future. During these talks, I present potential future scenarios so that companies can make informed decisions. I also use possible future scenarios to design next-level customer experiences for your patients or health consumers. Of course, I cannot predict the future. Then again, the future is already here. It’s just not distributed evenly yet. It’s a matter of identifying today’s ideas and innovations that indicate future changes. And yep, you can indeed discover those ideas & innovations on my daily blog. It’s there for you.


I see a future where diseases are not relevant.


This newsletter is such a future scenario. One worth thinking about if you ask me. It’s a scenario in which diseases become largely irrelevant, or at least less relevant than today.


So, what it is about?


You surely heard healthcare stakeholders talk about making the shift from sick care to healthcare. Well, in my humble opinion, this is putting the disease paradigm under pressure. And no, that is not a bad thing.





First off, it’s easy to agree that healthcare today is too much focused on sick care. In fact, for the past six years, I’ve been avoiding using the word healthcare for that exact reason. Healthcare is a system. And when people are sick, they enter that system. When they are healthy (enough), they exit the system. It indirectly implies that people are only “caring” about their health when they are sick. But that is no longer the case. People are occupied with their health more than ever before. As you know, I call this the “Healthusiasm” trend (and wrote about 90.000 words about it in my book).


You may look at this trend from within the system and say that sick care needs to transform into healthcare with an increased focus on preventative health. You can look at this from a human-centric view that highlights the already increased popularity of self-care (see my previous newsletter). But whatever way you approach this, it all boils down to the same thing: diseases will become less relevant. Here’s why…


Prevention is more prevalent than sick care.


The healthcare system plans to focus more on preventative health to postpone or indeed prevent diseases. At the same time, people themselves are also increasingly occupied with self-care to maximize their health & happiness. This Healthusiasm is everywhere. Now, I’m not so naïve to think that this will make all diseases disappear. But they will become less relevant. Just do the numbers. Think about the number of people actively occupied with their health (even when not sick) versus the number of sick people. The calculus is straightforward: more people are focused on prevention and self-care. Preventative health and self-care have the potential to outweigh the focus on sick care radically. Diseases will become less relevant because there are many more opportunities to talk about preventative health and self-care.


Prevention is more generic than sick care


Next to more people being occupied with prevention and healthy living, another aspect will make diseases less relevant. Sick care is very specific per disease. On the other hand, prevention and healthy living are more generic across and even beyond conditions. So regardless of being sick or not, healthy living has more potential to scale faster. Already today, companies or brands focusing on “Healthusiasm” speak to a broader audience. This empowers them to bring better products, services and experiences to the market, which will radically increase the uptake of health & wellness in the upcoming years. As a result, even patients will be focused a lot more on preventative solutions than today. This will radically shift the focus of the “health discourse”, and diseases will become less relevant in that discourse.



The popularity of the initiative by the Global Wellness Institute to eradicate all preventable diseases speaks volumes.



Health startups cover larger health areas.


If you are working with startups, or if you have been monitoring the startup market in the past couple of years, you might have noticed the exact change as I did: there is less focus on diseases and more attention to entire health areas. It’s often not about a solution for depression or anxiety but mental health struggles. It’s often not about diabetes but metabolic health. This fits perfectly with how people are looking at managing their own health. There is a ton of interest and motivation to work on more than just curing a disease. People make health-related decisions ranging from lifestyle to well-being, from preventative to medical decisions (cfr Healthusiasm Model). More people now want to be supported for all those types of decisions. I believe that the Women’s Health market is a perfect example of that. It’s no longer just about menopause, PMS or fertility. It’s about the broader picture. It’s about what women can do to optimize their health, with all the specificities of being a woman in her menopause, with PMS or with fertility challenges. The disease itself becomes less relevant.



Hims en Hers is a well-known example of a startup (read: unicorn) that focuses on different health-related decisions when being a woman.



Health is everywhere. Diseases are not.


Pharma companies are partnering with wellness applications; The car industry focuses on health experience more than on driver experience; Wellness retreats provide Long-Covid rehabilitations; Gyms present medical expertise and treatment; sports brands support women during their menstrual cycle… This random sample of companies and applications indicates how health has become an integral part of our daily lives. Health is everywhere. It’s a Healthusiasm World. The same cannot be said for diseases. In fact, the most frequent feedback from patient research is that they don’t like to be addressed as patients because they don’t feel nor consider themselves sick most of the time. I always describe “being a patient” as a being in a particular situation. It can be compared to being a student, a visitor, a driver, a guest, or a customer in many ways. You are only a patient in specific situations. You may have particular needs in that situation, but you remain that same person with the same expectations and life aspirations. You always remain a human being who cares about your own health & happiness. As people are more occupied with their overall health & happiness, and as they don’t often consider themselves patients, diseases become less relevant.


Good health is more than not being sick


The past 18 months have been very enriching in many ways. We have been confronted with the (additional) risks of not being in good health, which has increased the focus on self-care & prevention. We have learned how the impact of fear-based communication is limited in time. We discovered how people actively look for health-related information and solutions that go beyond the medical field. But we also found that people would instead run the risk of infection than languish indoors. When it comes to health, it's not just about avoiding disease. It is also (and increasingly so) about your general health. And sometimes, your mental health is worse if you keep hiding from a virus than if you’d try to live your life cautiously. To be clear, I’m not trying to undermine the covid-related measures. I’m just stating the obvious: even when a potential disease is lurking, people still look beyond this disease. Good health is more important than trying to avoid illness at all costs. Or in other words, for many people, a disease is less relevant than good overall health.


Technology changes the healthcare game


Apart from the societal changes, the human behavioural evolutions or the clever business strategies, there are still two more important aspects to be mentioned in the same breath: technology and science. Several life science companies were already heavily focused on the design of vaccines. The low-risk environment in which many more pharmaceutical companies were able to test new technologies the past year quickly is expected to spark the discovery of a big wave of new vaccines. Managers from within the vaccine business have already contacted me about the future trends in vaccine adoption. One thing seems pretty sure: diseases will be less relevant.


At the same time, plenty of start-ups were already heavily invested in tools to diagnose possible diseases before the actual onset of a disease. Think about how Grail (see previous newsletter) can detect 50 different types of cancer with a single drop of blood. Or look at research that goes into identifying predispositions of diseases via DNA or microbiome analysis. For now, these solutions won’t make diseases go away. However, they change the conversation from cure to prevention even more, and are in turn, making diseases less relevant.


Conclusion


The end of the disease paradigm could very well be in sight. Being sick is then no longer the dominant driver of our health-related decisions. We are no longer in or out of the system. We would then be constantly involved in our health. I expect people to be more often occupied with their overall health than with diseases (regardless of whether they are sick). Startups are already cleverly playing into this trend by bringing health-related instead of disease-focused solutions to the market. Companies from different industries with previously little to no affinity with health are providing health-related services in all parts of our lives. All of these manifestations could indicate that the focus should indeed no longer be on disease management. Health optimization might be a more relevant focus, perhaps. At least health management could be focused more on the positive side of things: The enthusiasm to be healthy and happy. Or should we call it Healthusiasm 



So what?


If this shift is indeed manifesting itself as such, it might mean that we must undoubtedly move away faster from a sick-care with too much focus on diseases. But how can we make healthcare about caring for your health? These questions will become even more relevant in the months and years to come (as diseases become less relevant): Why should healthcare institutions that typically treat patients expand their services beyond the sick? How should pharmaceutical companies leverage their internal health expertise beyond the treatment of patients? Who could assist healthcare professionals in providing more than disease-related information? What to do with the abundance of science-baked information? When to rightfully endorse a Healthusiastic person?


These and plenty more questions are indeed looming as diseases become less relevant. And you know what? I can help you with answering those questions. I can provide different scenarios and related probabilities that will prepare you for the future. Let’s design next-level customer experiences for your patients and health consumers.


Thank you for reading and for being part of this community of several thousand Healthusiastic readers.


You know where to find me.


-Christophe-

Trendwatcher in health & self-care.