I Want a Chemputer for Christmas

I’ve been reading about 3D printing.  It’s possible to manufacture stuff right on your desktop.  But I can’t get too excited about making my own paper clips.  To me that seems as silly as growing your own tomatoes.  The fact that 3D printing will someday gut the manufacturing sector of our nation is a topic for another time.  But think about that the next time you hear a politician say, “America must get back to what it does best – making things.”

Now I’ve learned of the “chemputer.”  It may be a next “big thing” in healthcare.  Put down the legos and never mind the paper clips.  With a chemputer you will be able to make your own pharmaceuticals.  No, not just meth or synthetic pot.  We’re talking real drugs. And combined with advances in genomics they could be specifically made for you and your unique biology.

The protagonist in this story is not some goofball sitting in his parent’s basement.  His name is Leroy Cronin.  He has a Ph.D. and is Gardner Professor of Chemistry, Head of Research, EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow, Royal Society/Wolfson Foundation Merit Award Holder, University of Glasgow (UK).  He is 39 years old, works with 45 research associates and believes that a good work day begins with a cup of coffee and a crazy idea.  Imagine having coffee with this fellow.  Now imagine what the world will be like when we can make our own drugs.


They Accepted Me!

Planet EarthNo, neither Harvard nor Oxford have accepted me for any of their Ph.D. programs.  So, no announcement there.  What I can announce is my acceptance into the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF).  It is not housed on the Starship Enterprise. The WFSF, founded in 1973, is an organization whose mission is to promote futures education and research.  It constitutes a global network of practicing futurists, researchers, teachers, scholars and activists.

The cool part for someone as elitist as me is that there are fewer than 300 members.  Applicants must have contributed to the field, conducted research, and provide convincing evidence that they can provide value to the organization.  I documented my ability to make coffee.  They also must be invited by at least two other members.  Not to worry – I didn’t tell them that my real motivation was to have an excuse to travel to conferences in exotic locations and look scholarly.

Scheel to Contribute to Study

In 2001 I gave a speech at the annual conference of the World Future Society.  I proclaimed the need to establish an organization of professional futurists – something that had never been done.  Not unexpectedly, it set off a number of intellectual wildfires.

In spite of the controversy, the next year I and a couple of colleagues from graduate school established the Association of Professional Futurists.  Just to assure that nobody became too comfortable, I then proclaimed that to truly be considered professionals, futurists should not only hold a post-graduate degree in the field but be licensed or certified much like an architect, electrician or interior designer.  It was not well received.

Now, a decade later, I have been asked by Jay E. Gary to participate in a Delphi study – a series of surveys by a select number of “experts” in order to achieve consensus about future possibilities.  Dr. Gary is Assistant Professor at the Regent University School of Business & Leadership and Program Director at the Master of Arts program in Strategic Foresight.

The study is being conducted in partnership with the European Business School which is considered one of the best business schools in Germany.  It will last for 60 days with 100 futurists from around the world deliberating on the subjects of career development and professional certification of futurists.  The study has 15 projections that participants weigh in terms of expectational probability.  Dr. Gary has asked me to critique the projections prior to the launch of the study.  I will share the results with you when the study has been completed.  I know you are about to wet yourself with excitement!

Hell is Freezing & Pigs are Flying

The growth of health spending in the United States is slowing!  No, this is not a typo.  Most policy wonks are surprised with some even muttering that there is room for optimism about the federal government’s long-term fiscal performance.

Of course, much of this trend is attributed to the recession.  But, more intriguing, it also may be due to changing behavior by consumers and providers of health care – meaning that the lower rates of growth might persist even as the economy improves .

In 2009 and 2010, total nationwide health care spending grew less than 4 percent per year, the slowest annual pace in more than 50 years.  After years of accounting for a growing share of economic activity, health spending held steady in 2010, at 18 percent of gross domestic product.

The slowdown was sharper than experts predicted.  The seemingly impossible may be happening – doctors and patients may have begun to change their behavior in ways that bend the cost curve.  Is it possible that hell is freezing and pigs are beginning to fly?  What could explain this remarkable trend?

It may just be a blip caused by the economy’s weakness.  But a few other more intriguing things are starting to happen.  There has been a surge of high-deductable health plans in which consumers have an incentive to think twice before heading to the doctor.  Another factor may be fewer expensive, novel drugs coming onto the market, as well as growing pressure to use generics which are much less expensive than “brand name” ones.  Lastly, health economists point to a shift toward accountable care, in which providers are paid for the quality of care, not the quantity of care.

I’m keeping an eye on this trend.  Hopefully, it’s not a fake-out.  Maybe we really are starting to figure out how to deliver care more effectively and efficiently.  And to all of us trying to live healthier lives, take a bow.

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Having Leading-Edge Thinkers Present to Your Organization (4 of 8 Ways)

If your company is in or near a city of any significant size, you have access to people who are willing to talk or conduct a “show and tell” about what they or their organization is doing.  I once had a prominent researcher from Intel give a presentation to my healthcare colleagues about what his company was doing to keep people mobile and independent through the application of sophisticated electronic sensors.  It dramatically reshaped my vision of where our industry is headed.  Disruptive?  Yup.  Transformative? That too.  A game-changer?  Could be.

Yes, I know in the age of webinars, blogging, YouTube, MeTube (I just made that up) and slide-sharing, it may seem outdated to have a real person and not an avatar present information, but it still works.  TED uses real people on a stage with a microphone.  Later they apply techno-wizardry.  But it all starts with a real human being standing in front of other real human beings.

You probably have a pool of resources you may not recognize as such.  They are your vendors.  If you happen to be in healthcare, ask your medical sales representative to talk to your staff about their products that are in R&D.  Ask your IT vendor to present on the future of electronic medical records or telehealth.

You may be able to tap into local or regional colleges or universities for professors or other scholars who may be delighted to talk about their area of expertise.  Most universities have speakers’ bureaus.

Almost everyone knows a lot about something.  Some of them take that knowledge and shove it into the future.  Find them.

Welcome to Anticipations: What I Told My Staff Five Years Ago

The blog you are reading sort of began in early 2007.  Back then we used something called paper and some old issues likely still lay in what are still called file cabinets.  Each issue, distributed to my staff, was described as “A quarterly newsletter to enhance understanding of the opportunities and challenges of the future, both professionally and personally.”

The following is taken from the front page of the first issue.  I hope it resonates with you and that it may compel you to share this blog with those you work with.

Welcome to Anticipations . . .
This is the first issue of what I hope will become a publication you will look forward to reading.  If successful, you will want to talk about some of its content with friends, co-workers or family.  It may even ignite an interest you never had before.  Or, it may seem like a total waste of time, although I hope not.

It’s called Anticipations because its focus is on the future.  Each issue may include brief articles, book reviews, explanations of how to study the future (no not crystal balls), emerging medical and healthcare topics, and what ever else looking forward brings to our attention.

Some of you may be wondering why your Administrator is doing this.  I’m not doing it because I’m bored.  I’m doing it because it’s both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do because everyone who works here deserves to know what I spend some of my day thinking about.  You guessed it – the future.  And how our team envisions the future shapes the direction of the organization as well as the day-to-day work environment we all spend so much time in.  In short, it is relevant to each of us.

It’s the smart thing to do because the world is changing faster and faster.  And it’s becoming more complex.  To continue providing quality healthcare and maintain a viable business enterprise, we must manage change and complexity.  We need to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that change affords us.  We also need to be able to anticipate the challenges (i.e., threats) that may lie in wait.  Lastly, but most importantly, we absolutely must be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest human resources.  And that’s you.

The hallmark of good futures work is to create connections – between today and tomorrow, between knowledge and action, between aspirations and reality.  Help create the future.  After all, it’s yours.


Futurist Wendell Bell Receives Laurel Award

pic   I think anyone who honors me by following this blog has intellectual heroes.  Many of mine date back to grad school.  One of them was Wendell Bell.

Bell is one of those people who makes me feel like a slacker.  Among many scholarly accomplishments he co-edited The Sociology of the Future, authored Foundations of Futures Studies, and recently Memories of the Future, a memoir.

Last week he received a 2011 Laurel Award from the Foresight Network (of which I am a member) for his outstanding service to futures thinking.  Past award winners include Buckminster Fuller, Alvin Toffler, and H.G. Wells.

Wendell Bell, you are in good company and from this admirer – congratulations.

Developing a Culture of Foresight by Creating Scenarios (3 of 8 Ways)

The nerdy definition of a scenario is a hypothetical sequences of events leading up to a specific future outcome.  I like to think of them as storyboards for the future.  They can be complex or simple, short or long.  They can be presented in written, verbal, or video form or even as a skit.

Scenarios have many purposes.  They can be used to think through the future of an entire industry, an organization or a single function.  Common to all of them are the identification of driving forces (such as demographics), stakeholders (such as hospitals), and trends (such as shorter lengths of stay).

Don’t neglect to make the effort fun, simple, and participatory.  It’s not only about the end result.  It’s also about the process.  The power of scenario building is how it gets people to immerse themselves in the future.  Working on scenarios leaves them no choice but to think broadly about the future.  Every group I’ve done this with has exceeded my expectations and probably their own as well.  They come up with marvelous, provocative ideas and important insights for their organizations.

It’s clear that once people have had the scenario-building experience, they have new places to go to in their minds.  They have a richer, more robust view of the future.  They also have a new mental habit – to think about alternative futures, not accepting that there’s some inevitable future out there.

Good scenarios are the result of your mind meeting in the middle.  You left-brainers can add some specific financial forecasts based on your spreadsheets.  Those tending to be right-brain wired may want to include some creative responses to social trends.  I once had a right-brainer taunt a left-brainer with the proclamation that “It’s better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.”

In 2008, while a Board member of the Clark County Family YMCA, I enjoyed working with colleagues to help the Y’s leadership open themselves up to alternative futures via scenario development.  The scenarios were delivered by pretending to be television newscasters.  Different scenarios were reported on as news.  Everyone had a blast.  Another group of folks created a fictitious YMCA 2018 Annual Report.  It addressed political, economic, social and technological issues.  It was coherent, compelling and, by design, dystopian – a very dark future for the organization.  Needless to say, it caused quite a stir.  In other words, it worked.

If you think scenario planning is fluff, a luxury or pointless navel gazing, you would do well to know that the main reason Shell Oil Company survived the great oil crisis of 1973 was because of, you guessed it, scenario planning.  Regardless of what you think of Big Oil their corporate planning folks don’t do fluff.  So get your team together and craft some scenarios.  They can greatly contribute to you organization’s long-term success.  And there’s nothing fluffy about that.

The Next Time I Smash Myself Up, I’ll Want This Medical Sensor

Fourteen years ago I went into a wall backwards in a Formula-style race car at over 100 mph.  I broke my back, broke my shoulder blade and bruised a lung.  Other than that, I was fine.

Something like that creates many memories but a rather unusual one is how scared I was when it was time to take the turtle shell off and, YIKES, stand up without it.  I was sure the rods and screws holding me together would result in my collapsing like a dynamited building.

That’s why I’m intrigued by a wireless sensor that is in the patent process by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  If it gets marketed, it will give surgeons better imaging of a patient’s condition after an operation than even x-rays and MRIs can produce.  This little sucker would be implanted into the surgical site by being fitted atop commonly used orthopedic musculoskeletal implants such as plates, prostheses or, in my case, stainless steel rods and screws.

Once in place the sensor would transmit data wirelessly to an external receptor device.  Surgeons who use it would gain streams of accurate measurements of the healing site’s strain, pressure, temperature, and other indicators.  This information would enable them to gauge more precisely whether a patient is healing properly.

As someone who systematically scans the horizon for innovation, I know this is one of thousands of medical products ready to burst out of the lab.  But this one has real meaning to me.  As I was recovering (successfully), I sure would have slept better if I could have known, in real time, if I was healing properly.  I hope that day is coming soon.

Yes, You Are in Healthcare. So Give Us Your Best Forecast

You may not actually work in the healthcare industry but you: (a) have been, are, or will be a patient, (b) you presumably are a taxpayer, and (2) 20% of your country’s GDP goes to healthcare.  I believe it’s called having a vested interest.

No one knows with any precision where healthcare is going.  Heck, this very day the Supreme Court is trying to decide the very consitutionality of healthcare reform that is so massive in scope and complexity that it makes my brain groan.

Take two aspirins and call in the morning?  No.  Develop scenarios, think them through, commit to one but stay flexible?  Yes.  That’s what I’m in the midst of doing.  And that’s why I need your help.

Here are summaries of four plausable scenarios for the future of healthcare.  They were developed by the Institute for Alternative Futures.  I would appreciate it if you would read them and vote for the one you believe most likely to emerge by 2025.  I know they are dramatically abridged and may overlap.  You can vote and comment below.

Scenario 1: Many need, many models – Things will not change much from how they are today.  There will be physician shortages, increased emphasis on prevention, expansion of electronic medical records, and increased disparity in care based on income and region.

Scenario 2: Lost decade, lost health – There will be more uninsured people both unemployed and employed.  Generally, peoples’ health will deteriorate.  Patients with good insurance will have access to great care enhanced by advanced technology.

Scenario 3: Primary care that works for all – Americans will enjoy nearly universal health care coverage, with 85% of patients using integrated systems staffed by teams of providers, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners and health coaches who work closely with patients.

Scenario 4: I am my own medical home – Many people will have catastrophic insurance with high deductibles.  Savvy consumers will use advanced technologies including noninvasive biomonitors and health management apps to stay healthy.  Most people will shop for the best doctor and buy on the basis of quality and price.