Averting “Disaster” in Healthcare: Xconomy Forum at MIT Tackles Big Problems and Potential Technology Fixes

4/28/10

There’s perhaps no better place in the Boston area to talk about the future use of information technology in healthcare than the modern building in Kendall Square that houses the MIT Media Lab. The abundant windows and glass interior walls allow natural light to spill onto researchers as they advance new technologies to transform healthcare. Visitors can see across the Charles River to renowned medical care facilities like Massachusetts General Hospital, and in every other direction they can see the largest cluster of biotech research institutions on the East Coast.

It was a great setting for “Healthcare In Transition,” Xconomy’s first forum solely focused on the convergence of information technology and healthcare. Frank Moss, director of the Media Lab, entertained the audience  with a clip from an old “Saturday Night Live” skit that satirizes the backward medical practices of the Middle Ages, when bloodletting was thought to be a panacea for all manner of ailments. Moss’s use of the clip underscored his point that patients, not doctors, need to be the agents of change in the broken healthcare system. Then John Moore, a physician and researcher at the Media Lab, gave us a look at several technologies—including artificial caregivers that talk to patients, a touch-screen interface to foster collaboration between patients and doctors, and a device for patients to use in their homes to communicate with caregivers—which are meant to put patients in better control of their healthcare.

Our presenters dazzled with their inventions to solve problems in healthcare. And there are plenty of problems: the $2.5 trillion dollars spent on healthcare in the U.S. last year accounted for nearly 20 percent of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and there is no sign that the gargantuan costs will level off. In the midst of this morass are people who are treating their bodies like dumpsters and taking no responsibility for the expensive results, doctors whose interests are to see lots of these sick people rather than spend more time to keep them healthy, and health insurance outfits that are profiting from the general disarray in this system. Still, the raft of bugaboos in healthcare has given rise to new companies and ideas bent on putting out these fires. And we tried to feature as many of them as we could on Monday.

“We’re headed for disaster,” Moss said. “We have to look at a … Next Page »

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