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How the WHO report highlights the need to prioritise preventative care

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its Global status report on physical activity 2022. The report is interesting for a few reasons. First, the WHO is the preeminent source of health data globally. Second, this is one of the only reports that focuses solely on physical activity as the main topic. Lastly, the report is a good barometer of the evolution of our market.

My overall summary of the report is that inactivity is still a major problem, we are making progress, yet we need to make more progress, faster. The good news is that the number of countries with national guidelines on physical activity increased 15% from 2019 to 2021. This brought the total to 47% of countries with national guidelines in place for 2021.

The report provided a distribution of the impact of inactivity on non-communicable diseases (NCD) in terms of the number of cases and the costs. Hypertension and depression account for more than 80% of cases ~50% of costs. The costs for dementia, cancer, and type 2 diabetes are also significant.

Inactivity very clearly impacts our physical and mental health, but it falls into this an awkward space in the health system- preventative care. While everyone extols the virtues of preventative care, the system still doesn’t reward its practice. Practitioners don’t get credit/payment, patients endure worse health and increased costs, and the entire system suffers.

We see this reflected in how countries deal (or don’t) with physical activity in their health systems. According to the study, 40% of countries with physical activity guidelines also have protocols for including physical activity in primary care. A further 55% of these have a referral mechanism in place (prescription). Approximately half of primary care facilities use these referral mechanisms.

Source: Global status report on physical activity 2022

In aggregate, this means that if we picked a random doctor’s office to visit, there is a 5% chance they have everything in place and provide referrals to patients who need to increase their activity.

To truly deliver on the promise of preventative care, we must improve this funnel. Small improvements can have big benefits. For example, by increasing the conversion rate across the cycle to 60%, the number of fully operational practices increases to 13. That is a 62% increase from today.

Source: Slope Health calculations

Technology can provide this uplift by reducing the friction across the process. A doctor should be able to search “activity prescription” and send a text message directly to her patient for them to download Slope. The patient should then be able to use an application just like they would a pharmaceutical.

This is why I’m excited about the marketplace ORCHA is creating in Europe and the US to reduce the friction in the process. The goal is to make it easier for digital health businesses like Slope to work with practitioners and increase patient adherence. This is music to our ears. I see a world in which companies like Slope and ORCHA are vital partners in improving the system by using the benefits of technology to reduce friction. This will improve care and reduce costs over time. One of the recommendations from the WHO is for countries to invest in technology to accelerate improvements in care. I hope they will listen.

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