The Future of the Operating Room is Affordable
Low-cost and simple-to-implement healthtech drives health equity
In a webinar on the future of the operating room (OR), the speakers touched the topic of the cost of technology. Surgical innovation is expensive. A DaVinci robot, a surgical system that uses a minimally invasive surgical approach, has a $2-million price tag. Not every hospital can afford that.
“We’re missing the ‘Ford model T’ of robots”, one of the webinar speakers said. I liked the analogy.
Expensive tech for wealthy patients in wealthy countries
This Nature article highlights how fancy OR tech create equality and health accessibility issues. Hospitals in high-income countries use this tech to compete and attract patients, with a few unexpected side effects:
- The focus on “expensive medicines for wealthy patients in wealthy countries”, according to a 2019 paper co-authored by Sullivan for the World Health Organizationthe paper, is putting low-income groups at a disadvantage by crowding out spending on the development of preventative measures.
- The use of such tech can increase the cost for patients (robotic surgery is an example: a 2017 report states that the use of robotics “can substantially increase the cost”. University of Virginia found that the median hospital cost of a robotic hernia repair was $7,162, versus $4,527 for laparoscopic procedures and $4,264 for open surgeries).
- Doctors in high income countries are trained on this expensive tech (for example, robotic surgery), and their training is irrelevant to middle -income and low-income countries that can’t afford it.
Surgical tech is aimed at making surgery higher quality, more efficient, safer, or all of the above.
Everyone deserves high quality surgery, not just patients of top institutions, in the right geographies, with the right socioeconomic status.
Some of the surgical innovation out there is really sexy. That’s not enough. There needs to be a clear path to making surgical tech affordable and accessible.
In the Ford Model T example, providing a low cost option had a radical impact, socially and technologically.
The Model T, sold by the Ford Motor Company from 1908 to 1927, was the earliest effort to make a car that most people could actually buy. Modern cars were first built in 1885 in Germany by Karl Benz, and the first American cars in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1893 by Charles and Frank Duryea. But just because they were available didn’t mean that ordinary people could afford them.
The Model T was actually affordable and it became so popular at one point that a majority of Americans owned one, directly helping rural Americans become more connected with the rest of the country and leading to the numbered highway system. The manufacturing needs of the Model T went hand in hand with Ford’s revolutionary modernization of the manufacturing process.
How to drive down surgical tech costs
- ☁️ Cloud SaaS — leveraging cloud infrastructure like Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a key to affordable tech. It eliminates the high costs of on-premise installations and upgrades, maintaining and supporting different versions for different hospitals/surgical centers. It simplifies global reach and makes self-service and low-touch implementation achievable. It also enables disruptive cloud business models.
- 💻 Off-the-shelf hardware — focusing on software innovation that works with commercial hardware components is a brilliant way to slash tech solution costs (I personally witnessed how this concept revolutionized data centers, saving it for another post 🙂). I’ve recently met an inspiring cloud-based company in the surgical space and was excited to hear that they, too, believed in low-cost surgical tech. Using elegantly packaged off-the-shelf hardware they provide an incredibly portable, easy-to-use and high-quality solution that costs a fraction of the competition price.
What are your thoughts on low-cost surgical tech?
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