This fifth category of innovation – leading healthy lives – holds the greatest promise of all, as self-care becomes the new primary care. It is well known that unhealthy life styles account for 50 to 70 percent of health-care costs. For example, America's obesity epidemic is the leading cause of Type II diabetes, heart disease, and spine, hip and knee issues. Yet instead of focusing on enabling people to lead healthy lives, we concentrate downstream on those who are sick and extremely ill to the point of nonrecovery.
To enable Americans to lead healthy lives, we should focus on three basic areas: 1) eating healthy, 2) physical fitness, and 3) stress reduction. How can innovation change life styles? Let's look at some examples:
- Eating healthy. Innovative food and beverage companies, such as Boulder Brands and Suja Juice are transforming eating and drinking habits along with products like Earth Balance all-natural spreads, Udi's gluten-free cereals and baked goods, and organic juices.
- Physical fitness. A relatively simple device like Fitbit has become transformative in changing people's behavior by walking at least 10,000 steps per day or exercising in Lifetime Fitness clubs that focus on healthy living.
- Stress reduction. The mindfulness movement is revolutionizing daily behaviors that reduce stress through myriad mindfulness practices. Don't know how to meditate? Innovative on-line products like Headspace provide guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training.
Today, the usage of these products is heavily concentrated among the middle and upper social-economic classes. The key now is to get them as ubiquitous as mobile phones by offering them in local communities and at lower prices.
For decades, American health-care systems have been mired in trying to become more efficient with essentially the same methods. What is needed to transform health care's broken system is much more radical transformation that these innovations can bring. Rather than looking for political solutions to a broken system, the focus must shift to innovation to create more radical approaches that create entirely new systems.
Commentary by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, and the author of "Discover Your True North." He is a CNBC contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_George.
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