Prof. Dr. Erwin Böttinger

Big Health Data, Big Health Opportunities

Written by Prof. Dr. Erwin Böttinger

Executive summary

In the last 60 years the proportion of the world population aged 65 and above has almost doubled from 5 percent to 9 percent.1 Japan rates as prime example of a so-called ‘super-aged’ society. The elderly population (aged ≥65 years) currently accounts for more than 27 percent1 of the total population and is expected to exceed 30 percent in 2025.2 Concurrently, birth rates have dropped considerably within the last 50 years.3 Other western countries are characterised by similar demographic transitions. An ageing society poses a tremendous challenge to current healthcare systems. Akin to Japan, Germany is well on its way to becoming another ‘super-aged’ society and its healthcare system faces similar challenges.

Parallel to the demographic transition, our society is subject to a profound technological transition. This is linked to a continuous increase in electronic data, as ever new technologies are employed, which can collect, store and share it. A lot of the accumulated data contains relevant information about a person’s health.

If we want to make sure that the burgeoning elderly population can live and age with dignity and a good quality of life, it is imperative that conventional healthcare systems adapt to these novel challenges. Healthcare digitisation is the key to sustainability. Establishing a high-level strategic approach and centralised coordination is necessary for success; however, concerns regarding data security and privacy of sensitive information are a key obstacle which often delay implementation of data-driven healthcare solutions.

Facing similar challenges in its population, Japan is creating a new regulatory framework for a next-generation healthcare system, where medical data and technology will be more usable for research institutions and private-sector businesses as well, for the sake of heath care innovation, advanced research and development, and new business creation. The fastest ageing nation in the world may be sharing ‘ageing experiment’ and new healthcare business opportunities with other-western countries; its approach to make data more usable will make it a highly attractive market for foreign direct investments and business partnership, along with the huge amount of quality medical data, tech-friendly citizens, and well-developed IT infrastructure for the healthcare sector. Japan can be an ideal test bed in an ageing society for foreign businesses.

Sharing issues of an ageing society, German businesses and organisations should leverage opportunities Japan is opening, for creating new solutions together.