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Why Healthcare in America is So Expensive Part 2 – Surgical Equipment

February 27, 2017 5 comments

With this essay we embark on a journey through the world of medical cost.   In my last essay, I argued that while our government struggles to create a system that pays for the healthcare system we have, the true problem is the outrageou
s cost of that system, not how we pay for it.

Today, we will examine the surgical equipment industry, and how expensive i
nnovation and technology is valued over actual contribution to patient outcomes, and how every incentive exists to make medical equipment as expensive as possible.

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A few years ago, I was involved in a project with a number of students from Georgia Tech’s biomedical engineering department.   I had an idea to solve a basic problem in laparoscopic surgery, and these students were charged with cSurgical-Instruments-11.jpg
reating a prototype solution to the idea.  We came up with an elegant solution to an issue that occurred in every laparoscopic surgery in this country, and eventually the students presented this idea as their senior project for their degrees.

Subsequently, I approached my University’s Technology Transfer department (the group that helps faculty to commercialize their ideas.)  We went through a process of idea disclosure with the hope that the University would help me to bring this idea to market.  In the end, though, it fizzled.    They said they weren’t interested in developing the idea.  So I approached several industry groups.   Again, no interest.  Over time I talked with three different groups that develops ideas, and no one was interested.

The kicker of all of this is that the lack if industry interest had nothing to do with the utility of my invention.  In fact, all parties agreed that the idea was great and the solution was elegant.  They also agreed that they could imagine the device in practice.   The problem wasn’t that the device wasn’t a good one, it was that the device was too simple, and too inexpensive to manufacture.  I had imagined a device that would probably cost about 5 dollars in every surgical pack.  In the end, the development market had little interest in such a device, given what it costs to develop bring a device to market and the likely payout at the end.  This thing actually saved money in time and in replacement of more expensive equipment already in use in the OR.   But what I found out was that there wasn’t much interest in devices that causes industry to make less money.

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