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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Innovation in Healthcare: For One and for All

Healthcare dominates the news of late.  But the stories are all about politics, partisanship, and money.  I would rather focus for a moment on the positive side of the picture - the incredible advances that have been made in healthcare in the last fifty years.  You can almost make a case that medicine as we know it was only invented in the last half of the 20th Century.  Think about the technologies that we take for granted:


  • Heart/Lung Bypass Machines for heart surgery
  • Cataract removal and lens replacement
  • Feasible organ transplantation because of anti-rejection drugs
  • Minimally-invasive surgery
  • CT Scanning
  • MRI
  • Anti-viral drugs
  • Vaccines
  • Cures for childhood cancers
  • Angiography
  • Coronary stents
  • Pacemakers
  • Joint replacements
  • Dental implants
The list goes on and on.  It is truly remarkable how far the medical sciences have advanced.  Most of this technology was developed in the United States, another measure of the innovation we have enjoyed in this country.

You might think of these technologies as being focused on individual health.  The biggest impact on longevity, however, continues to be due to public health:  clean water, sewage systems, clean air,  better nutrition, and mass vaccinations of the population are a few examples.  It seems to me that the talk of the last year to fund "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects could have been seen as a way to maintain and improve our public health.  Most of the water pipes in major cities are a century old and falling apart.  Same goes for the sewer systems.  Money spent on these projects would not only help unemployment, they would help maintain our public health.  Seems like win-win to me.  Innovations don't always come in shiny packages.  Some come right out of the faucet. 

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