Thursday, February 22, 2007

Has State Managed Health Care Stifled Technology Innovation?

This will almost certainly prove to be a controversial post. I don't intend to offend, but I do wish to stimulate debate.

The hypothesis of the debate is that since the creation of the National Health Service in 1947, the UK health care sector has not been conducive to developing new technologies.

Although this has been in my mind for a while a piece of evidence came to me in a presentation on medical imaging at the IET London Local Network last night by Teresa Robinson, a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Bristol. Thanks for that Teresa, although I must stress that these are my views. Teresa showed that the early Computed Tomography (CT) research and development was done in the UK by EMI. The presentation also noted various British luminaries in the advancement of medical imaging.

EMI made a huge commercial success from innovations in such areas as radar, millimeter waves, microwave and CRT. This spans a period from WW2 through to recent decades. For some reason, EMI could not repeat that success with CT (which is also in the radiating electrophysics domain) and EMI abandoned its efforts in that arena. Now, just a few decades on, the CT industry is dominated by Siemens of Germany, GE of the US, Phillips of the Netherlands and Toshiba of Japan. These are all countries with what you might call progressive health care systems.

What went wrong? Perhaps EMI did not find a domestic marketplace full of clients ready to try new techniques?

I feel that customers drive innovation. It is their hunger to do things better, faster or cheaper that compels industry to satiate that hunger. Free health care at the point of delivery is a great vision, but have we lost the leading edge? Are the two mutually exclusive?

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Benoit said...

ClickRich, as you know I used to work in the EMI Central Research Lab building and remember see Sir Godfrey who got the Nobel prize for the CT scanner in the corridors. I was told that the main reason explaining the commercial failure was the fact that EMI was not involved in the hospital/medical sector before the CT. They failed to undestand the importance of the distribution channel and of the relationship between radiologists and the equipment suppliers. When the market took off in the 80's, GE and Siemens had had the time to develop their own version of the technology and had already established links with radiologists through the supply of X-ray machines. They knew how these people worked, what where their requirements, how the budgets where defined etc. It was easy for them to sell CT scan. On the other hand, EMI had no clue.

ClickRich said...

I think you're absolutely right, they didn't know. However the market was developed, I think it is a two way process between industry and the market. A hungry market helps.

It is still the case that the latest medical imaging devices are installed in Germany, US, Japan and the Netherlands before the UK.