Joseph Smith, MD, PhD, F.A.C.C, is the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Science Officer of the West Wireless Health Institute. In this interview he speaks to the healthcare crisis faced today in the USA, and discusses some relatively simple innovations that could drive down healthcare costs.
Dr. Joseph M. Smith
Chief Medical & Science Officer
Gary & Mary West Wireless Health Institute:
I hate to start by quoting a politician, but I think Rahm Emanuel is famous for saying, “you never let a good crisis go to waste.” And I think we’re confronted with a crisis in healthcare costs and healthcare logistics. We’re outstripping our ability to care for our people; both in terms of the available number of caregivers for the number of people who need care, as our population ages, and also, obviously outstripping our ability to pay for it. We spend almost 18% of every dollar we make in the US on healthcare; a number which far exceeds that of any other developed nation, and yet, we don’t develop a product.
Our current healthcare system is really a disaster recovery system. We wait ’til you’re so sick that we know how to rescue you. We really need to move that to small course corrections as you go, to keep you out of hospitals and doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. And so we have this enormous challenge in front of us, and I think it’s the technology intersection between engineering and medicine that affords a potential solution. I think we can look forward to the democratization and de-centralization of healthcare. Moving care back to the individual; the notion of getting healthcare where you are, when you need it, as opposed to having to rely on trips to the cathedrals of care that are our current healthcare institutions.
The notion of having relatively simple technology: wireless weight scales that allow patients with congestive heart failure to have data sent to their Docs or nurse coordinators to just check in iteratively on how they’re doing; as opposed to the coolest, most expensive little implants that you can provide. I think they also serve a role, but I think the solutions we need right now are, perhaps, the lower cost, more easily deployed, more familiar and friendly solutions. So I think we can look to technology to help with that. Distributed sensor systems, artificially intelligent, kind of exception-based analysis of streaming bits of data from ‘in’ or ‘near’ body sensors. We can look to our homes and our cars as ways of looking in on how we’re doing; so the notion of ‘smart homes,’ ‘smart environments’ to help us do better as we age in place. I think all of those are the opportunity that exists in this very fertile intersection between engineering and medicine.