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American Innovation
Good News for the Future of Healthcare

The Affordable Care Act, and, indeed, the entire U.S. healthcare system, is creaking under the burden of high and rising costs. But private sector healthcare innovation continues to provide glimmers of hope that costs can ultimately be brought under control through new technologies and delivery methods. The Financial Times reports:

US researchers have developed what they say is the world’s first surgical robot that can outperform human surgeons when operating autonomously on soft tissues such as intestines, paving the way for clinical trials.

The team at Children’s National Health System in Washington DC compared its new Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot, or Star, with expert surgeons using the best manual techniques and robot-assisted systems.

The information revolution has dramatically reduced the costs associated with many of the goods and services Americans consume, but that technology dividend has yet to manifest itself in the healthcare and education sectors (in part because these these sectors, understandably, face some of the highest regulatory barriers). But even these areas will not be able to remain insulated from technological earthquake reshaping the rest of the economy indefinitely. Within the next decade, it’s plausible that an array of technology-enabled reforms—from telemedicine, to mobile clinics, to behavior modifications, to new surgical machines—will start to bend the cost curve downward in a sustainable way, and contain the growth of premiums and deductibles.

The biggest challenge facing our healthcare system is, and has been for decades, that care is too expensive. One of the oversights of Obama-era health reformers is that they prioritized increasing access, rather than lowering costs—insufficiently attentive to the fact that, in the long run, affordability is access. Subsequent changes to our healthcare system should have a laser-like focus on reducing the cost of care—by lowering outdated regulatory barriers, investing in basic research, and encouraging cheaper forms of delivery. But the most promising avenues for reducing costs lie outside the purview of the federal bureaucracy. The final burden for reimagining our healthcare system will depend on the ingenuity of the American people.

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  • Boritz

    “outside the purview of the federal bureaucracy”

    ‘KGB decides what interests KGB’ — Maj. Pribluda, Gorky Park

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “will start to bend the cost curve downward in a sustainable way”

    Wrong. Any improvements will be eaten up by the bureaucracy. The Government Monopoly like all Monopolies, suffers from the same disease, the lack of the “Feedback of Competition”. It is the “Feedback of Competition” that provides both the Information and Motivation which forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in free markets. For as long as some third party (Medicare/Medicaid, Obamacare, VA, Employer, etc…) is paying for healthcare instead of the consumer, healthcare will remain an expensive disaster area.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Let us know when robot-assisted surgery is advertised as cheap—-or even cheaper.

    • Andrew Allison

      TAI’s naivete wrt the impact of technology on heathcare costs is touching.

      • FriendlyGoat

        We all want to be naive about this. Some day we will figure out that the cost of good medicine (“good”, not the moon) is whatever society decides through governments to have it be. When we decide in all states, for instance, to let nurse practitioners practice “unsupervised”, we will have them treating lots of people in all states. When we decide to control the advertising and pricing of prescription drugs, we will have cheaper drugs. When we decided to get rid of medical underwriting of insurance, we got rid of it. If we decide to treat a bunch of maladies effectively with low-cost cannabis, we will do it.

        • seattleoutcast

          I hope you are thanking Republicans for the supplement industry. It was Gingrich’s congress that allowed it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I am not talking about the “supplement industry”. I am talking about food spices you can buy in the little tall bottles in a grocery store. For the record, though, I am not against the pill supplements and I agree they need not be over-regulated. I also know that it would be quite possible to spend quite a bit of money on them as a result of hype. Since they are mostly (mostly, not absolutely) safe and do not bankrupt people, though,caveat emptor at the vitamin shop.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Perhaps so, but he may have a point this time. This system is in its infancy, and already it exceeds the ability of human surgeons, and its ‘expertise’ can be systematized and recorded. With time, it can be used to address the most expensive part of healthcare, the salaries of the practioners, and that is where you make real changes.

        • Andrew Allison

          Are you suggesting that in time, Nurse Practitioners who aren’t even allowed to provide unsupervised primary care will take over from the surgeons? I wouldn’t recommend breath-holding [grin]. The surgeon might be willing to supervise the robot doing the work, but he or she is not going away. You’re right, of course, that the physician guild is keeping salaries artificially high (about 50% higher than comparably educated people in other professions).

          • f1b0nacc1

            I would suggest that the robots will simply do away with the surgeons (in MOST cases, not all…at least not immediately) entirely. The evidence suggests that within the areas that they are competent, they do a better job than the human surgeons, and while that won’t change things overnight, it will happen soon enough, especially given the costs involved.

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