Professor Martin Curley trained as an electronics engineer and spent 15 years at Intel Corporation as global director of IT innovation and director of Intel Labs Europe. Subsequently he was senior vice president and global digital practice lead at Mastercard.
In 2018, Martin joined the Health Service Executive, Ireland’s public health system, as chief information officer and CEO of eHealth Ireland. He went on to become director of digital transformation and open innovation, a position he occupied through the Covid crisis, where he was instrumental in the country’s pandemic response.
Martin’s experience in the IT and healthcare industries has made him a passionate believer in the transformative power of digital technology to solve the growing global healthcare crisis.
As healthcare becomes increasingly unaffordable in the developed world and largely unavailable in the developing world, technology-led innovation can address many of the fundamental problems we face today. These include staff shortages, an ageing population and a hospital-centric global health system focused too much on illness and not enough on keeping people well.
Martin continues to push for change as chair of the United Nations Science Summit Digital Health Leadership Steering Group. He is also professor of innovation at Maynooth University in Ireland.
He was a keynote speaker at the recent NetEvents Global Media Summit in San Jose, CA where he talked to NetReporter.
NetReporter: Professor Martin Curley is calling for governments, digital healthcare leaders, professionals and citizens to work together to avert a looming crisis in global health care. Martin, perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about you.
Martin Curley: I’m Martin Curley. I’m an electronics engineer. Originally, I spent most of my career in the tech industry with Intel, Philips, GE and MasterCard. But over the last five years, I’ve been working in healthcare. And I believe some of the insights that I gained working for tech firms are applicable to healthcare transformation. So that’s what I’m really focused on. And my mission is around driving a global digital transition for healthcare.
NetReporter: Your call to arms is in a document called the Manhattan Manifesto. Perhaps you can tell us how that came about who was involved, and what it is that you’re asking for?
Martin Curley: Well, we’ve made remarkable progress in the last 200 years through healthcare, we’ve more than doubled life expectancy for most people on the planet, which is absolutely amazing.
We’re now at a stage where the old model is breaking down, we have demographic trends that are going in the wrong direction, we have clinician attrition, we have full hospitals, so people are recognising that we need to do something different.
And there’s a real opportunity to take digital technology, which is an exponential technology, apply it to healthcare, which is very information intensive, and actually reverse and bend these curves.
I’ve been working with a bunch of global colleagues through the United Nations science and digital health symposium. And we’ve come together as about 50 leaders to try and create a global agenda that takes all the complexity of healthcare and makes it really simple.
We’ve come up with something called the Manhattan Manifesto. And the core of that is a very simple strategy, we call stay left, shift left, 10x.
Let me explain. Stay left is about using technology to keep well, people well, or if you happen to have a chronic condition or need rehab, that you can be managed best of all from home. Shift left is about moving patients as quickly as possible from an acute to community to a home setting. And the last piece, 10x, is that we have witnessed and observed that when we deploy digital technology solutions with clinicians and patients, we work with them to iterate these solutions, we’re achieving outcomes that are 10 times better, 10 times faster, 10 times cheaper, 10 times higher volume.
So we believe if there’s a concerted effort globally, around a common agenda, we can create whole new kinds of shared value, better welfare, better wellbeing, and indeed wealth, because we need to think about health not as an expense but as an investment.
NetReporter: Covid has accelerated the problems faced by the world’s healthcare systems, but perhaps you can tell us why you think they were already in trouble before the pandemic. And why do you think we’re now heading for a cliff edge?
Martin Curley: Well, I think Covid was actually really good for digital because it became a big bang disrupter. And we were able to radically innovate very quickly. In Ireland, within 48 hours, we had a remote monitoring solution for Covid-19 and similar solutions. Unfortunately, now the threat of Covid has gone more or less away we’re back to the old way of doing business. But if you look at every major indicator in terms of spending, like the US which is spending 20% GDP on health care, whereas, GDP growth or your wages are growing nowhere near.
So currently 50% of the world’s population don’t have access to adequate healthcare, and 50% can’t afford it. If these trends continue, they won’t be able to afford both access and availability. We have a demographic time bomb and people are living longer, which is great, but they’re getting older. And the system as it currently is designed just can’t deliver on that.
So we have attrition of clinicians, there’s burnout, people are not getting seen, people are dying because emergency departments are full and digital is a very obvious answer to this. It’s an exponential technology.
Peter Diamandis said when you digitise something, it starts to behave like an exponential technology. And there’s a real opportunity to check this crisis and people around the world are recognising it, and it’s in the papers every day. We can do something about this with the accelerated deployment of digital solutions, keeping people in the home, keeping well, and empowering patients to do most of their care themselves, because they’re the people that are most invested in staying well.
NetReporter: So that’s the problem. Why do you believe digital transformation is the solution?
Martin Curley: Well, I’ve worked in semiconductor manufacturing for 25 years. And that’s probably 10 times more information-intensive than healthcare. I saw how digital transformation transformed that business when I joined Intel at Phoenix in 1992, Intel was miss-processing 3% of its wafers in its factories, and sometimes that cost a million dollars. We quickly developed a solution in less than six months that eliminated miss-processing wafers.
There’s a similar problem in healthcare. In Ireland alone, we have 3 million medication errors per year. That’s one medication error per patient per day. And this was just a synchronisation problem. So if we could do this in semiconductors 25 years ago, why can’t we do it in healthcare today?
NetReporter: What will it take to make that happen? Martin?
Martin Curley: The OECD say the number one thing we need is political will. This has to be a political decision, but the route that we’re taking through the UN digital health symposium, it’s aligned with what Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a few committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” So we’re trying to create a movement. We have these great organisations like the UN and the [World Health Organization] and they have great aspirations, and they make progress. But we need to move much faster. This problem is coming at us so fast, those institutions are more designed for stability rather than agility. So what we want to do is create a global movement driving these digital health solutions, solutions that are so compelling they’ll be adopted by patients and doctors and nurses and administrators.
NetReporter: Systems are struggling to pay for the care they provide already, how are they going to afford the additional investment needed for digital transformation?
Martin Curley: I think the returns are so compelling. This is so obvious. So I think how we do it is to demonstrate the solutions that work. And if we can just work by deploying digital technologies, the overall spend on healthcare is actually going to go down. [We need to focus on] keeping people well. We have a systemic problem in Europe, we’re spending just 3% of the total health spend in Europe on prevention and proactive healthcare and 97% on illness. But just by shifting that 3% to 7% or 8% people are weller, they feel better, they’re not going to the hospitals, they’re going to the doctors less. We can detect using IoT devices very early onset of chronic disease – and chronic disease in the US, for example, is 90% of all cost, it’s 70% of all deaths.
So this is something we can fix. I think is seeing is believing, showing these case studies showing the technology showing how patients and consumers adopt it. We can do our banking online, we can do our shopping online, we have to be able to do healthcare online.
NetReporter: There are some very powerful IT companies are at this event. What can they do to get involved?
Martin Curley: We’re so thrilled to have the tech companies here. But we also have med tech companies involved, companies like Medtronic and pharma companies like Roche and Novartis. What this is going to take as a grand coalition, it needs everybody working together. So we have too many egos, too many silos. But if we have everybody working together, towards this common vision of stay left, shift, left, 10x, we can move much faster.
It’s about alignment. It’s about amplification. It’s about acceleration. So having the tech guys at the table is a real vote of confidence. They see how digital has transformed your finance and music and retail. And they’re here at the table say we want to help you to fix healthcare.
NetReporter: And finally, Martin, how optimistic are you that we’re going to turn this situation around in our lifetimes?
Martin Curley: We have no choice. We have to. One of the messages I want to bring is about hope. There is this pallor of despair across the industry. There was recently a nice article in [the press] talking about doctors – it isn’t overload of work that’s causing the problem. It’s actually morale, because they see no hope. The systems are failing. So we have to fix this because that means you and I and our friends or relatives and everybody out there are not going to get the care we need and we need to get ahead of this. So [we need to be] detecting disease very early. You don’t want to be diagnosed with something in A&E. We want to capture that in the pharmacy or a GP surgery well in advance. So you stay well, and you don’t become more of a burden to the system so we have no choice.