Those Unromantic Infrastructure Improvements

Most important improvements in medicine don't get all that much press. It's improvements in the glue that holds the system together - and the resulting reduction in cost of medical processes - that will make as much difference in the future of your health as more flashy prospective developments, like cures for cancer and working anti-aging therapies. Infrastructure is only boring and unromantic until you start to consider what might be possible if you cut specific costs by a factor of ten, or a hundred, or a thousand - let's say the costs of obtaining, moving and processing medical data, for example:

Meeting the needs of those with the chronic diseases of aging - heart disease, Alzheimer's, and so forth - is a labor-intensive chore we increasingly cannot afford. Health care consumes 15 percent of the U.S. gross national product, up from 5 percent in 1960. In Japan and Europe, which manage care more frugally, the share has in most cases already passed the 10 percent mark. And the numbers continue to rise. We will have to find clever ways to economize on labor, the most expensive element in health care. "General practitioners and other front-line health care people are overwhelmed; they haven't got time for patients, and the vast majority would welcome relief from some well-chosen, well-placed technology," says Philippe M. Fauchet, an electrical engineer and director of the Center for Future Health at the University of Rochester, in New York. He and others are betting that information gleaned from our increasingly networked world will be a big part of the solution.

As the folks at FasterCures correctly identified, working on the infrastructure that could make costs of new medicine fall more rapidly is a desirable goal. Medicine is increasingly becoming an information industry; this means that the major costs and trends could all be subject to the same level and scale of improvements that bioinformatics has brought to medical research. If, that is, that regulatory and other monopoly obstacles can be overcome. Medicine is a backward and inefficient industry precisely because enormous costs are imposed on improvement and innovation by government at the behest of medical associations and other protectionist groups.

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