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Harvard Business Review wonders whether the U.S. health technology sector has run out of gas

Posted Apr 12 2010 4:39pm

Recently I wrote that Innovation in healthcare IT is dead (but hopefully only temporarily) . I thought, after my HIMSS trip, that there was very little innovation happening probably because of the deep freeze caused by all the regulatory activity and new Meaningful Use and Certification requirements.

Today I saw one of my favorite publications, Harvard Business Review, ask a more general question: Has the U.S. Health Technology Sector Run Out of Gas ? There is a discussion of lack of innovation in pharma, medical devices, and our health IT industry. Here’s what they said about the IT sector:

Enterprise clinical information technology seems to have hit a similar flat spot. The major commercial IT platforms for hospitals and health systems are more than a decade old. Some of the older platforms are written in antique computer languages like COBOL and MUMPS, which predate the Internet by 20 years. Despite a societal investment of more than $100 billion, these tools have yet to demonstrate that they can reduce the cost or improve the efficiency of patient care. They remain cumbersome, expensive to install, maintain and operate. The user interfaces feel a lot like Windows 95 in an iPhone era.

What happened to the medical technology field? It certainly hasn’t been a shortage of cash, or of research investment. It seems like the process of commercialization of medical innovation has broken down.

The HBR article points to the following likely causes:

  • Risk-Averse Managements
  • Size Is Actually a Handicap
  • Losing the Competition for Global Talent

They conclude by offering the following vague and general suggestion:

Medical technology firms must create environments where the brightest minds from around the world want to come to work, a viable alternative to venture backed start-ups or academia. They must create a responsive, risk seeking, fast-to-fail, but also fast-to-succeed and fast-to-market corporate culture. It isn’t continual refinement of mature technology platforms that will get the job done. To create definitive solutions to complex disease problems, we’re going to need a new generation of knowledge-driven executives who actively seek and master risk.

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