Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Innovation and Effective Healthcare for The Masses: An Oxymoron?

I tread carefully when it comes to discussions on optimizing healthcare solutions for the masses because Stephen Hawking's image crops up in my mind with this question: What if we designed a wonderful system that made it really difficult for Stephen Hawking to seek assistance at any point in his life? Replace Stephen Hawking with any person important to you, or who you believe is important to society, and you know what I mean.

Teams designing an effective healthcare system for the masses have challenges on sustaining innovation that are slightly different from those faced by mass market consumer products companies.

For a mass market beverage company, the challenge in supporting innovation may exemplified by the case of the Quaker Oats Company product portfolio acquisition. However, for regulators designing an effective healthcare system, the real challenge in societal optimization of healthcare lies in supporting innovation "pathways" through:
1> supporting basic research, and,
2> providing markets, processes and infrastructure for very expensive drugs to hit the market, and,
3> providing patients means to seek solutions outside the "mass" healthcare system.

For patients that have to pay out of pocket, then the government must make this process seamless, painless, and provide structures that help individuals extract some "economic rent" from (no apparent or direct attached economic benefit to) society. Depending on the context, you could call easy access to private, non profit foundations, to help fund your recovery, a form of economic rent.

In fact, the government may leverage experience with organ transplants for designing these "innovation pathways": http://www.organtransplants.org/understanding/unos/

The three points listed above are examples of the way certain "types" of innovation may stop getting support once creating and sustaining a mass market healthcare system becomes a prime focus of the society. I realize I am effectively proposing an indirect subsidy for innovation. I am in favor of this sort of indirect subsidy, because my hypothesis is that this may have a multiplier effect on drug research. My perspective is that this indirect subsidy would be similar to the investment in national highways in the last century.

What do you think?


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