Healthcare is no Exception: Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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The top 10 medical innovations for 2013, announced at the 10th Annual Medical Innovation Summit, reflect society’s increasing need for disease prevention. Hopefully, these technologies and strategies will help contain rising medical costs, as well as improving the quality of life.

As the world’s population ages, and as increasing demands are placed on public and private health care systems, and as costs continue to rise, the need for innovative preventive care could not be greater. While mass technological strides continue to be made in the area of curative care, science is increasingly focusing attention on the development of technologies and systems geared toward disease prevention as the best means to control costs and improve the quality of life. So it’s really no surprise that when the Cleveland Clinic released its annual list of the ‘Top Ten Medical Innovations’ for 2013, which will be announced at the 10th Annual Medical Innovation Summit, the list was heavy with new technologies designed to enhance preventive care.

The Medical Innovation Summit brings together hundreds of representatives from medical corporations and government agencies, including healthcare executives, investment bankers and venture capitalists, researchers, and service providers, for a candid exchange of ideas about how to meet an aging population’s present and future health needs. Each year, clinic experts from a wide variety of disciplines nominate their candidates for the best innovation in a particular field, then a panel determines the “top ten” innovations, which are announced at the summit and subsequently published in various medical journals. This year the panel sifted through more than 250 nominations before deciding on their top ten list. Some of the more notable innovations cited include:

An implant for the control of chronic cluster and migraine headaches
A small device is implanted in the mouth of headache sufferers, that stimulates certain nerves and blocks pain signals. When the person feels headache pain coming on, they use a remote control device placed near the cheek to activate the implanted neurostimulator, and in just minutes, the pain is gone.
A hand-held optical scanning device for certain skin cancers
The FDA has approved a device that uses rapid imaging technology to microscopically examine blood vessel structures and abnormalities just below the surface of the skin, that greatly improves the chances of detecting melanoma in the earliest stages. Melanoma is the deadliest form of the most common cancer in humans, and detecting it early can save not only lives, but also thousands of dollars in treatment costs.
A lung “re-conditioning” system
Those in need of lung transplants have faced a real challenge, because approximately 80 percent of donated lungs are infected or damaged in some way and cannot be used. But new technology allows a lung that bears excess fluid or contains bacteria to be infused with a solution and “reconditioned” while attached to a ventilator, increasing the percentage of successful donor-to-recipient transplants.
“3-D” mammography
This is the popular term for tomosynthesis, a recently developed imaging technology that greatly improves the accuracy of breast cancer screening, by gathering dozens of images taken from several different angles. Getting such an accurate picture of the entire breast allows clinicians to better detect small cancer cells, even in women with more dense breasts.
Bariatric surgery for Type II diabetes control
Several surgical techniques, ranging from stomach banding to intestinal bypassing, have become increasingly commonplace as “weight-loss” solutions when dieting has failed. But research indicates bariatric surgery is also an effective means of treating individuals with Type II diabetes. It’s even more effective than treatment with medication alone. Moreover, many bariatric surgery patients showed not only fewer signs of their diabetic condition, but also improvements in such things as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This has many doctors thinking that surgery might well be considered earlier on as an effective intervention for correcting and/or preventing the well-known components of the all-too-common “metabolic syndrome.”
A new and improved Medicare
This is a most unusual addition to this year’s list because the “innovation” is not some fancy or sophisticated technological device, but rather a revision of an existing system. Close to 75 percent of all medical costs for Americans are due to four chronic conditions: cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, and the research clearly shows that in large measure these conditions are preventable. That’s why a bipartisan congressional group sent to the committee the Better Health Rewards Program Act of 2012. The act recommends a program of annual wellness visits, and provides incentives of up to $400 to Medicare recipients who meet certain goals after checkups in the second and third years of a custom designed plan to reduce risk factors for these diseases.

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As the population ages, costs continue to soar, and pressures increasingly mount on 3rd party payers, the risk that there will eventually be significant rationing of health services has increased dramatically. But as innovations in service delivery increasingly focus on prevention, many are hopeful that health care rationing can be avoided through overall cost containment and reduced need for crisis intervention. All these issues will be front and center as health care industry leaders convene for this year’s innovation summit. And, as always, they’ll be sharing their ideas on the innovations and strategies that are still needed, even as they submit their nominations for next year’s “top ten list.”

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