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Why Jeremy Jacobs is imagining the future of health care

Commonplace genetic testing that will expose potential pre-existing conditions in most of us.

Robots, not only aiding surgery, but cleaning rooms and transporting patients.

Computing advances that make some doctors obsolete.

Science fiction? Not really.

It's all on the horizon in a high-tech vision pictured in a new report, "The Future of Medicine," written by a team of futurists, and commissioned by the Jacobs Institute and Jeremy M. Jacobs Sr., chairman of the Delaware North Cos. and Jacobs Institute boards of directors.

Their attempt to predict 25 years ahead builds on the host of emerging forces in data analysis and technology, as well as social and demographic changes, that promise to reshape medicine.

The aim of the report: provide a roadmap here and elsewhere to take advantage of the possible opportunities and avoid being left behind.

"It's about taking people out of the present and making them look long-range at where they are going, to provoke conversation. Some of this may happen, some may not," Jacobs said. "We sought to show the landscape and let people make their own decisions about what to do about it."

What to expect in medicine in 20 years

Last year, Delaware North produced a similar effort at forecasting called "The Future of Sports," which made predictions on stadiums, ticketing, broadcasting, sponsorships and other issues tied into the work of the global hospitality and tourism conglomerate based in Buffalo. Among its lines of business, Delaware North provides food service and retail management at many sports arenas. Jacobs also owns the Boston Bruins, and serves as chairman of the NHL board of governors.

The sports report arose out of a business meeting. Jacobs said he and others noted that horse racing, once one of the most popular sports, had experienced a steep decline in attendance in a few decades. They asked themselves, "What is going to be the next horse racing? Where are we going in sports?" he recalled.

The wide-ranging report on health care is more personal.

Jacobs is the brother of the late Dr. Lawrence D. Jacobs, a Buffalo neurologist who gained international recognition before his death in 2001 for his research on multiple sclerosis that led to the development of Avonex, one of the most prescribed treatments for relapsing forms of the condition.

In honor of Lawrence, the Jacobs family contributed $10 million to establish the Jacobs Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus with the aim of accelerating the development of new technologies in vascular therapies, and of fostering "collisions" between physicians and researchers from different fields to encourage innovation.

Jacobs also has deep ties to the University at Buffalo, where he graduated from the School of Management and has served as chairman of the school's governing body, the UB Council, since 1998. His donations to the school include $30 million he and his family gave to the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, which now bears his family's name and will soon move into a state-of-the-art building under construction downtown. Lawrence served as chairman of UB's neurology department.

A worker walks across a lift while waiting to secure the new UB logo to the facade of the UB Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in August. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

To Jacobs, the point of the endeavor is not so much about staring into a crystal ball and getting every prediction right as it is about acknowledging that the medical industry is ripe for massive disruption and preparing for it.

"There is such a competitive environment here in health care that exists everywhere, and competition is good. Buffalo, like everybody, is very focused on the cost of health care, and sometimes we focus on that without looking at the long term," he said.

In making predictions about health care, the futurists involved in the project at Attention Span's FWD Group first tried to identify an array of forces shaping the industry. They include the likelihood of faster and more powerful computers, more sophisticated data analysis, less expensive biosensors, an aging population, rising income inequality, continued progress in robotics, and advances in immunotherapy and gene editing.

"The report is a vision piece and conversation starter," said Chris Cowart, executive editor of Attention Span FWD Group, which put the report together.

Computing and the Internet have drastically altered the way we shop, communicate, bank and obtain news and information, leaving brick-and-mortar stores and legacy media reeling, among others. Soon, Cowart and his co-authors argue, a similar revolution will occur in health care. A generation of  patients, doctors and health care executives who grew up on Amazon, Google and Microsoft will push the changes and embrace them. Those tech giants may play larger roles in health care in the years to come.

"It's not science fiction, although the implications may feel that way, and it's not a dystopian view," Cowart said. "The world of health care is going to change, and all in all, it is positive and hopeful."

Bill Maggio,  chief executive officer of the Jacobs Institute, said the report's longer-term outlook comes out at a time when Western New York, with strengths in certain medical specialties and the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, is better prepared to take advantage of new opportunities in health care.

The Jacobs Institute, he said, is striving to be a go-to place for medical device innovation, for example.

"We want to bring companies here and have them make investments," Maggio said. "The report gives us an idea of how we get there and what role we can play."

Some parts of the "The Future of Medicine" seem obvious given current trends. Others come as a surprising insights.

Jacobs, for instance, said he was well aware of the increasing need and use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to deliver basic primary care. But he was jolted by just how great the growth in the nonphysician workforce has been, as documented by the report, and believes the implications for care are significant as the growth rapidly continues.

"To watch how much the transfer of responsibility and authority has been pressed down to physician assistants and nurse practitioners – and it does belong there – it changes the nature of the work doctors are doing," he said.

The report will be available online Thursday at when it is officially released at an event at the Jacobs Institute.

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