More medical technology, please?

Chariot of Reaction suggests that Lasik eye surgery is a model for healthcare success. I know other people who have said the same: price transparency, technological innovation, onward and upward!

Technological innovation in healthcare is a double-edged sword. It pushes down overall costs if efficiency gains overcome new costs. I would guess that many of the theoretical gains don't materialize: in the hospital I used to work at, they didn't stop printing a piece of paper for every lab result despite the fact that all results are in the computer--the paper goes straight to the recycling bin. When it comes to medical items like MRIs, I suspect that some diagnoses are better but many just arrived at more easily, with the addition of expensive machines.

But it does seem like R&D should have the ability to bring down costs in the long run, doesn't it? I'm not so sure, unless you are talking about a Fountain of Youth pill that will make older people productive workers like when they were young. If you "cure" DM2 and cancer and find a universal and effective antibiotic, your gains are going to be offset by an increase in non-productive end-of-life years when people are depleting wealth.

For the Edge question this year, Aubrey de Grey has suggested that generalized comfort with risk would improve biotech research.

Part of what drives up healthcare costs is the high reliability of equipment. When was the last time you got an X-ray and it accidentially emitted too much radiation? Have you ever removed a needle from its packaging and discovered it was blunt? Doesn't happen. Cost control in these arenas would involve using new tools in a hospital and having some of them fail periodically and not litigating.

On the other hand, the type of research de Grey is talking about is related to new therapies. A magic pill that would prevent cancer would be a big financial boon to society in the short run. In the long run, it might prove highly problematic and costly.

There aren't good answers to cost control in healthcare. None that I know of at any rate.