Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

The Implantable Defibrillator: Pricing Itself Right Out Of The Market

When DrRich left his medical practice nearly a decade ago, he spent much of the next few years as a consultant to certain companies that make implantable defibrillators.

Most of his work was in research and development, and had next to nothing to do with defibrillators themselves, or any aspect of treating cardiac arrhythmias. Rather, DrRich was interested in developing physiologic sensors that could be deployed in implantable devices, and the algorithms that could use these sensors to predict and detect various developing medical conditions (so as to enable early intervention, and potentially prevent said medical conditions from becoming manifest). DrRich considered this work a) interesting, and b) representative of a business model that could potentially flourish within a healthcare system whose chief concern is reducing costs.

And whenever the captains of industry who signed his checks would ask him something about implantable defibrillators, usually seeking his opinion on a proposed subtle variation in some unbelievably complicated programming feature, DrRich’s reply was likely to be something like this: “Sir (or Madam) – I will be happy to study the question you pose to me, as I am working on your dime. But it greatly saddens me to see all this time, energy and talent wasted on adding yet more irrelevant features to a mature technology, in pursuit of a business model that is fundamentally broken.”

To which they would smile indulgently, hand DrRich the document describing the proposed changes, and schedule a meeting to discuss them.

The indulgent smile was in recognition of the fact that DrRich never made a secret of his disdain for the business model embraced by implantable defibrillator companies. The fact that these captains of industry put up with DrRich’s disapproval was a clear indicator that they considered it to be “quaint,” and apparently not worth taking seriously, and that the value DrRich provided in other arenas at least counterbalanced the annoyance of having him criticize their core business every chance he got.

DrRich’s disdain for the implantable defibrillator business model was based on two factors.

First, their business model relies on the artificially high prices the system will pay for their devices. DrRich has discussed this before. While these high prices are not directly the fault of the companies themselves (rather, they are fundamentally the fault of Medicare processes that distort and destroy natural market forces), these companies have now come to rely entirely on this artificial price structure, and have established all their business practices around this high-margin enterprise. The problem is that this high-price model absolutely precludes any reasonable penetration of this life-saving technology into the vast population of patients who might benefit from it. Also, because the price structure is not only artificial but arbitrary, a few simple changes in Medicare processes could abruptly destroy their business overnight.

Second, nobody is really interested in preventing sudden death. It’s difficult to sell any product when there’s no demand for that product, and there is no demand for sudden death prevention.  In contrast, most other medical problems have a built-in constituency Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »