Innovation Where It Counts: Save Lives, Don’t Invent Gadgets

By Shlomo Maital  


           A simple idea in economics is this: Put your money where it brings the highest marginal return.  In medical care, America is disastrously failing to do this. The result costs thousands of lives!

          According to a study by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), published in their March 2012 Bulletin, “hospital errors cause 100,000 deaths yearly” in the U.S.”.  These are all preventable deaths, notes the author Katharine Greider!   These deaths are equivalent to a hurricane that would wipe out the entire population of South Bend, Indiana! 

     A study of Medicare found that 1 in 7 patients died or were harmed by their hospital care! How about those odds: 14.2 % you’ll be harmed or die.   “The number of patients who die each year from hospital errors is equal to four jumbo jets crashing each week,” notes the author.   U.S. surgeons operate on the WRONG BODY PART as often as 40 times a week!

     A small investment  in operations innovation could remedy this, and substantially cut the death toll.  For example: Supply each nurse and doctor with an MDA (medical digital assistant) that provides instant comprehensive information on each patient and connects to a central databank.    Some 1,500 lives were saved in 18 months in Michigan intensive care units, when a checklist was introduced for handling catheters!  Just a checklist!

   Yet America continues to spend $8,000 a year on medical care, double that of France or Canada, investing in very very very expensive procedures instead of investing in innovations that improve operations, prevent errors and save lives.  For example:  open heart surgery costs $324,000 (!), a heart transplant, $287,000, a liver transplant, $235,000; and a heart valve procedure, $133,000.  These operations are done all the time. 

    It is true in general that there is massive underinvestment in strategic operations innovation, in companies.  But in hospitals, this costly mistake kills huge numbers of people – and it is simply ignored.