Healthcare, technology and costs

We’ve got a few more health related startups than usual in the BGV cohort that starts next week which set me thinking about the role of technology in improving our health and the healthcare system. This comes at a time when the NHS is in the news for all the wrong reasons again. Winter is always crunch time when the system goes beyond its staffing limits. My former colleague Simon Parker tweeted this a couple of days ago:


Unfortunately I think Simon’s right and it’s unlikely we’ll hear politicians talking about anything other than a bit more money and fractional increases in staffing numbers. This will be nowhere near enough as demographics mean that healthcare costs are going to rise much more quickly than that. In fact, they’re already rising across the developed world, independent of the type of healthcare system.

At the same time I read Albert Wenger’s blog post on healthcare deflation which paints a very different picture of the future:

“All in all then I am quite optimistic that we can make progress in reducing the cost of healthcare and that technology will ultimately act as a deflationary force in this field as well.”

Albert sets out all the different ways that technology could help, comparing it to education which he’s also considered. It’s a variation on the ‘software is eating the world’ argument — that technology will enable better organisation of resources and that it will help provide huge amounts of information for free that could reduce the burden on formal healthcare.

From our experience at BGV, there are signs that Albert is right but there are still huge barriers to adopting new technology in the NHS. Some are legitimate (proper protection of peoples’ medical information for example) but others are just knee-jerk reactions, rejecting the new for the sake of it.

Politicians might do better reducing the barriers to innovation and the tools that help healthcare professionals do their jobs better than just finding a few percent increase in the budgets.

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