Did you know that doctors are learning how to re-grow body parts? It’s true. Not even just bladders and tracheas (as seen on Grey’s Anatomy), but finger tips and nails too. But are these kind of medical advances really what we should be spending our time on? I mean, we barely know how to feed ourselves.
This was the topic of debate this past Saturday at the Harvard Business School’s 8th Annual Healthcare Conference.
The conference kicked off with a keynote address from Robert Epstein, the Chief Medical Officer at Medco, who trumpeted regenerative medicine as one of the four “amazing innovations in science that hold the promise of true healthcare reform,” along with genetics, epigenetics, and stem cell therapies
But Epstein’s assertion that these breakthroughs will help bend the cost curve down was disputed in the very next panel. Larry Fitzgerald, the chief financial officer of the University of Virginia Medical Center, thinks those types of innovations will bring the cost curve up, because they extend life rather than eliminate disease.
“Instead of having neurological problems at age 80, we’re going to have them at age 95 or 100,” he said during the Health IT panel discussion. “We’re still going to have them.”
And so emerged the topic of the day: instead of sinking our resources into ground-breaking innovation, we should be concentrating on preventative medicine and behavioural changes?
According to the U.S. State Department, chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes account for seven out of every ten deaths in the U.S. and are projected to cause the majority of deaths worldwide by 2020, outstripping infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.
This topic dominated the global health panel, since treating chronic diseases will be a new challenge to the healthcare non-profits, the majority of which currently address infectious diseases.
“We have patients in Sub-Saharan Africa who say they would rather HIV than diabetes, because they can get treatment for HIV,” said Epidemiologist and panelist Todd Reid.