The Price of Healthcare Innovation

Chaos and Organization

When was the last time you’ve seen a doctor?  Did you enjoy the experience of scheduling, driving in traffic, looking for parking, waiting just to see your provider for maybe 10 mins?

Unfortunately, that’s an experience that many Americans can commiserate with.  In a recent study comparing healthcare qualities across 27 developed countries across the world.  The United States came in dead last.  And the icing on the cake is that we also pay the most for healthcare per capita – almost $10,000!

So, this brings us to the core of our discussion today.  The US Healthcare System is in trouble and this piece will not present a magic bullet.  Instead, I want to focus on a particular issue that’s often been ignored in the mainstream media, the idea that innovation itself can be a causation for chaos.

Let’s travel back 27 years to 1988.  You’re sitting in your doctor’s office.  He walks into the room with your test results and a concerned look.  He mutters, “I’m sorry but you have tested positive for HIV.”  That is devastating news because even the best treatment around that time will only keep you alive for 4 more months on average.  Now fast forward to 2016, HIV positive patients are living a near normal live.  There are diseases, conditions, treatments that were impossible a few decades ago that are non-existent today.  People are living longer, happier lives and medical innovation has enabled that.

But innovation also comes at a price.  That same medication keeping an AIDS patient alive today will cost (on average) $700,000 over his life expectancy.  Big pharma will typically invest upwards of $1 billion dollars to take a drug from conception through market deployment, and they don’t always pan out.  Innovation is not free.

More insidiously, innovation is also not efficient.  The explosion of knowledge and information has led to the hyper specialization in the medical.  This means that if you have a chest pain today, your PCP might refer you to a cardiologist, that cardiologists might send you to a Electrophysiologists, Catherization Specialists, Radiation Oncologists and the list goes on.  What’s scary is that communication rarely happens among everyone.  Innovation has created a scenario where your doctors will know less and less about more and more.

Lastly, Innovation has also created unnecessary and dangerous consumer demands.  I am a healthcare consumer.  I pay good money for my health insurance and I want the best and most expensive treatment that money can buy.  Some of you might find this ridiculous but that is the general consumer behavior when price is correlated with quality.  This is not the case with healthcare.  In many cases, the low fat, high fiber diet with 30 minutes of exercise twice a week is a MUCH better prescription than a $30,000 triple bypass.  Patients have to take control of their health and not rely on magic bullets.

In short, it’s easy to blame the issue on our politicians and greedy insurance companies.  But innovation itself is a great driver for chaos and inefficiency.  So the next time your doctor prescribes you a fancy new pill, ask yourself just HOW much is this going to cost me, my family and my society.

REF: Chaos and Organization – Lee and Mongan

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