Xconomy Asks the Experts: Can Technology Innovation Really Lower the Cost of Healthcare?

10/24/11Follow @bvbigelow

Last week I was struck in particular by a comment that one reader appended to my post about the formation of a $100 million West Health Investment Fund by San Diego philanthropists Gary and Mary West.

The Wests say they created the fund (and are providing the entire $100 million themselves) to invest in “cutting-edge” medical technologies that offer “the potential to substantially reduce” healthcare costs. The comment left by my one skeptic argues that advancing new medical technologies will accomplish virtually nothing to lower health care costs.

“High health care costs are tied up not in technologies, but in administration and delivery of care,” the reader wrote. “It’s a people & process problem, not a tools problem.”

I thought it was an insightful comment. So insightful, in fact, that I decided to ask several healthcare leaders to respond. After all, haven’t innovations in medical technology historically driven healthcare costs higher—not lower? As luck would have it, I was able to put the question to several healthcare leaders at a downtown reception that was organized to celebrate the formation of the new West Health Investment Fund.

The experts I cornered were Eric Topol, the cardiologist, chief academic officer for Scripps Healthcare and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute; Don Casey, CEO of the West Wireless Health Institute and manager of the new West Health Investment Fund; and David Gollaher, CEO of the California Healthcare Institute, an independent research and advocacy group that aims to advance the interests of California’s biomedical community.

Q&A with Eric Topol:

Xconomy: I’ve got a reader who says technology is the wrong area to focus on when it comes to lowering health costs. He contends that escalating costs are really the result of people and processes.

Eric Topol: I don’t agree with that.

X: Well, I’ve heard you talk about how moribund and ossified the medical community is, and FDA regulations and so forth.

ET: This puts out a grand challenge. It says, “Hey, we’ve got a … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Walter M Shaw MD FACS

    Dear Sirs:

    It is very interesting that the goal of the West Healthcare is technology and this success will be related in my opinion to simplier technology and looking at the big picture excellent medicine can be practiced in a simplier more accesible manner.This will take some time for completion starting with the medical schools with protection from the legal profession.We must make the patients examination complete and simple with the periodic endoscopy readily available at low cost as part of the exam. The complete exam is the key to early diagnosis which is rhe key to improved health care and affordable.
    The end of life is approached differently and providing pain free care should not cost one’s life savings. The above is an over simplification but attainable.Remove the dollar from motivation of delivery of competent medical care with the assurance that the end of life will not be a financial catastrophy.

    Walter M. Shaw MD FACS