How to tackle big health-care issues

In today's business world, you hear a lot of talk about innovation and new technology. The pace of innovation gets faster every day, driven by unstoppable, disruptive forces such as the Internet, big data and analytics, and new manufacturing methods. If you can't innovate, you will not be around for long.

While some view innovation through a purely economic lens, in most sectors, including health care, it is also an accelerator for societal growth. Whether continuously developing and investing in products and solutions that bring quality affordable health care to the underserved, teaming with key industry partners to address significant global health access issues, or, finding ways to quickly commercialize ideas via start-ups, business has long understood that innovation and partnership are key to advancing health globally.

A patient undergoes an electrocardiogram.
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A patient undergoes an electrocardiogram.

Through my work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and at GE, I have been exposed to the tremendous toll disease can take on populations around the globe. Consider the impact that cardiovascular disease has in the U.S. where it is the number one killer and causes one in every three deaths.

In addition to the obvious impact this has on families and communities, it is a tremendous economic burden too. According to the American Heart Association and CDC, annual direct medical costs associated with cardiovascular diseases are projected to rise to more than $800 billion by 2030, while lost productivity costs could exceed $275 billion. In developing markets, the rise of non-communicable diseases like heart disease is taxing already strained healthcare systems and putting large populations at risk.

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Innovative partnerships can help solve such widespread public health and economic challenges. Leveraging the combined strengths of the public and private sectors and uniting various organizations around shared purpose can help increase access to care, reduce costs and deliver innovative health-care solutions in more places.

Business can also play a significant role in partnering to help employees lead healthier lives. Workplace partnerships between employers, employees and families and health-care providers reinforce the link between health, productivity and better lives.

The power of partnership is obvious in Million Hearts, a five-year national U.S. initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it aligns existing efforts and creates new programs to help people live longer, more productive lives. The CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, co-leaders of Million Hearts within HHS, are working alongside other federal agencies and private-sector organizations like the GE Foundation to make a long-lasting impact against cardiovascular disease.

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Separately, in Chicago, we've joined with other companies and organizations and local government to drive the "Keep Your Heart Healthy" program to identify Chicago residents most at risk for developing heart disease. This program helps residents gain access to health screening services, and connects them with primary care when appropriate. Last year, nearly 11,000 at-risk people were screened, many of whom would not have received care otherwise.

These examples illustrate how partnerships contribute to solving some of today's toughest health challenges, helping more people access affordable care, combating the rise of non-communicable diseases, and creating better outcomes for many.

Commentary by John Rice, vice chairman of GE. He is on the boards of the GE Foundation and CDC Foundation. Follow @GE_Foundation on Twitter.