Stress and Strain
The Value of Innovation When You’re Under the Knife

The Value of Innovation When You’re Under the Knife

Longtime readers of Machine Design may have noticed my comments and articles have been missing from our magazine and website for the last six months. Many of you likely assumed that I was serving a stint in the Big House, but the truth is a bit more lame: I’ve been out on medical leave for nearly half a year.

The good news: After innumerable encounters with doctors, nurses, and technicians of every stripe and tests, exams, and procedures ad infinitum, the medical professionals overseeing my care finally managed to pinpoint the root of my problem and permanently correct it.

The bad news: A foray into the healthcare system isn’t cheap, to say the least. The cost of a hospital room can exceed $5,000/day; CT and MRI scans easily run in the $2,000 to $3,000 range; and even a single aspirin costs over $3. With insurance, there’s sticker shock. Without it, you could be bankrupt.

With so much hand-wringing over rising medical costs, one certainly wonders: With all of today’s medical bells and whistles, do the benefits of advanced technologies outweigh the costs? If you’re sick, they often do.

Take heart procedures. Options for treating heart attacks now range from bypass surgery, angioplasty, and stents to defibrillator implants and pacemakers, to name a few. Treatment costs have gone up with the introduction of such procedures, but they bring savings in terms of shorter hospital stays, quicker recovery, and fewer re-admissions, not to mention a longer and better-quality life.

An even better example of cost-benefit tradeoffs involves infant mortality. In 1950, little could be done medically for low-birthweight babies (weighing less than 3.3 lb) and the mortality rate was a shocking 70%. And those lucky enough to survive could expect a shorter lifespan as well as life-long medical and developmental problems.

Now, with advances such as NICUs, special ventilators, and medications that speed lung development, four out of five low-birthweight infants survive. Such treatments are undoubtedly expensive. But that’s far outweighed by the tangible and sizable financial and societal benefits when these once-sick infants grow up, earn a paycheck, and enjoy normal, productive lives.

Or consider surgical robots. These engineering wonders combine high-definition vision and imaging systems with precision-guided medical instruments and let surgeons perform complicated procedures with only a few small incisions. They can also cost well over $1 million apiece.

But in the hands of skilled specialists, surgical robots can be more productive with higher success rates and fewer complications, compared to more invasive alternatives. They tend, for the patient, to result in less pain, faster recovery, and an overall less unpleasant experience. For bean counters that may not matter, but for someone on the operating table, it sure has a lot of value.

At the end of the day, do investments in the latest medical technology outweigh the costs? From a patient’s perspective, they’re worth every penny.

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