Emmott On Technology: A Reading List for Greater Understanding of Technology’s Impact on Health Care

Emmott on Technology: Books that Explain Tech Impact on Healthcare
Thursday, January 31, 2013

What will the medical and dental professions be like in twenty years? Where is all this technology taking us? Are we doomed from technology run amok like in Terminator or are we on the verge of heaven on earth?

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. On the other hand understanding what is happening now can help prepare us for what is coming later. After all the future is coming…and all that. Here are two books that look at technology and how it will change the future of medicine and dentistry from both a clinical and a business point of view.

The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare by Eric Topol, MD

“Creative Destruction” is an economics term which refers to the process of creating a new business or industry based on the destruction of an old industry by technology. An obvious example is the destruction of the horse carriage industry by the automobile.

Eric Topol is a forward looking physician who presents an eye opening look at what might be possible. Imagine using a cell phone that can detect cancer cells with an online database of the DNA profile of every known cancer combined with your personal genome and the results of treatment protocols on hundreds maybe even millions of similar patients.

You could in theory scan yourself with a simple phone attachment, have the data analyzed in the cloud, if an early symptom of disease is detected, the system could compare your disease at the genetic level to the database and prescribe a personalized treatment, perhaps a personally formulated medication which could “cure” you. The system would then follow up with future scans and evaluations, perhaps tweaking the treatment protocol as needed. All this with no human involved.

 Better treatment, faster and more effective than what we get now with no physician. That’s creative destruction.

The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Healthcare by Clayton M. Christensen

 Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor who first gained fame in 1997 with his seminal business book The Innovator’s Dilemma. He makes the surprising observation that established market leaders are often doomed when “disruptive innovation” comes along. For example GM losing the automotive wars to Toyota, or Western Union losing out to AT&T in communications was not a result of poor management at GM or Western Union, but was a result of those managers following the best practices for their businesses at the time.

Disruptive innovation often starts as a new entry into a market serving clients the current market leaders do not want and cannot service economically. For example Toyota provided small inexpensive cars to a very limited market that GM did not want to service. GM surrendered the barely profitable economy car market to Toyota and moved up market to highly profitable sedans, minivans and SUVs.

Currently the medical industry model relies on a very costly infrastructure of acute care hospitals staffed by an army of personnel ranging from janitors to highly skilled surgical assistants. However nothing can happen in this system without the very highly and expensively trained and therefore very expensive physician taking part.

New disruptive technology of the types discussed by Topol will allow consumers (i.e. patients) to receive care in a less expensive setting that may not require the cost of an acute care hospital or a highly trained physician.

For example why treat a chronic disease such as diabetes at a hospital with a physician. This type of disease could possibly be managed with digital home testing, wireless online evaluations and an Internet support group to help patients with lifestyle management issues. Or free standing walk-in clinics at shopping centers staffed by para-professionals could treat a proscribed set of minor conditions. In other words, the management of certain chronic conditions or the treatment of minor ailments can be done in a low cost setting and the hospitals and expensive physicians can move “up market” to treat brain tumors.

Christensen looks at a number of possible new models of delivering medical/dental care using new technology, unconventional delivery systems, free market innovation and competition with alternative payment methods that could improve both access to and the quality of healthcare while reducing costs.

The future is coming and it will be amazing!

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