Emerging innovations in the delivery of health care, particularly in developing countries, offer insights on how to tackle its rising cost, estimated at $7 trillion a year globally. Health care is consuming an escalating share of income in developed and developing nations alike. Yet innovators have found ways to deliver care effectively at significantly lower cost while improving access and increasing quality. They are uncovering patterns for raising productivity, and leaders across health sectors—public, private, and social—should take heed. With the recent passage of health reform legislation in the United States, for instance, tackling costs is imperative there, but it is also an important goal in every other part of the world.
New approaches to the delivery of care abound. In Mexico, for example, a telephone-based health care advice and triage service is available to more than one million subscribers and their families for $5 a month, paid through phone bills. In India, an entrepreneur has proved that high-quality, no-frills maternity care can be provided for one-fifth of the price charged by the country’s other private providers. In New York City, the remote monitoring of chronically ill elderly patients has reduced their rate of hospital admissions by about 40 percent.
Unfortunately, health care can be an isolated and local activity: innovations are not widely known across different systems or beyond sector boundaries. Merely identifying and promoting innovations isn’t enough, however—leaders need to understand whether, and how, the lessons of innovators can be replicated elsewhere.
Many of the most compelling innovations we studied come not from resource-rich developed countries but from emerging markets. Two factors help explain why. First, necessity breeds innovation; in the absence of adequate health care, existing providers and entrepreneurs must improvise and innovate. Second, because of weaknesses in the infrastructure, institutions, and resources of emerging markets, entrepreneurs face fewer constraints (this is one upside of the lack of meaningful oversight, which obviously also has many drawbacks). They can bypass Western models and forge new solutions.
The nearly 30 successful innovations we looked at pursued a handful of strategies to change the economics of health care delivery in a fundamental way. In other words, they were not successful by chance. By understanding the opportunities these innovators seized, leaders throughout the health care system can identify opportunities for their own organizations.