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The Challenge of Innovation in Healthcare, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 704

Essay

The future of anything, including healthcare, is difficult if not impossible to know with any kind of bankable certainty. For one thing, which future are we talking about? Next year, next decade, or next century? To ask this question is to realize that the only things worth discussing are not specific future events or inventions, but rather predictable trends. This makes things easier. Consider the current trend towards do-it-yourself diagnosis, courtesy Dr. Google.

The future of healthcare will definitely be one in which patients will increasingly partner with their doctors. In other words, patients will be more and more medically educated, if not actively trained. Already there are websites that allow people to contact a doctor online and receive a diagnosis in real time for a competitive price. Most such visits are currently “out of network” but that could change as they grow more popular — insurance companies will realize that such services can save them money if their use helps identify potentially serious problems early. So we can say that the retail end of medicine will become increasingly decentralized. Such innovation could be classified as consumer focused innovation, as opposed to business model innovation (Herzlinger, 2006).[1] Consumer technology will be a big driver of this kind of innovation. One recent news show demonstrated how a patient at home used her smartphone camera to take a video of her mouth to allow her online doctor to check for signs of infection. Consumer-led innovation will speed treatment times, lower costs, and spur more innovation.

This kind of innovation may occur on the research side as well as the customer side. For years now a loosely knit but rapidly growing community of “biohackers” — self-funded and using equipment purchased on Ebay — have been conducting independent research on a variety of subjects, from designing recreational drugs not yet declared illegal to the properties of viruses. Biohackers will likely begin replicating (or trying to replicate) experiments that proved (or “proved”) the effectiveness of certain drugs that now make millions for their makers.

There will likely be institutional changes in how healthcare is delivered, which is to say, how it will be paid for and who will pay for it. This will probably be based as much on changes to governmental health policies as to technological- or consumer-based innovation. Specifically, this will depend on the future of Obamacare. And the future of Obamacare will depend on how much it ends up costing. This is a big wild card. Consider that in writing this paper I listened to a NPR news story of a promising drug, based on a virus, said to stop brain proteins from folding wrong. Such misshapen proteins are strongly suspected of causing Alzheimer’s disease, which is largely a disease of the elderly. The elderly are a very rapidly growing demographic. As the Greatest Generation dies off, their Baby Boomer children are becoming elderly. It may not be too much to say that the future of big budget healthcare in America is the future of eldercare in America. And the future of eldercare will be critically dependent on new drugs and technologies.

This brings us to the future. What about the Gen-X and Millennial generations? They still have the time to head off the diseases and conditions that have settled on their predecessors. But will they? Probably one of the best things that people can do is eat less meat and dairy products. This has been known for many years. We can only say at this point that vegetarianism will certainly not be going away. But it probably will not become the main diet style of the future either, unless Americans are forced to pay the real price for their food, not prices based on waste-encouraging government subsidies designed to pacify producers and users alike. That may happen. Currently the Colorado River water flow is way down, due to drought conditions.

Here we have the real problem of predicting the future: it depends on factors outside of our control, like climate, and chance discoveries in labs, which is how penicillin was discovered.

References

Herzlinger, R. E. (2006). Why Innovation in Health Care Is So Hard. Harvard Business Review, 1-10.

[1] Of course, consumer-focused innovation could (and probably will) result in changes to medical business-models.

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