Will Tomorrow’s Medical Innovations Be There When You Need Them?

I am a fan of Paul Hsieh, and his blog GeekPress. Lots of things he blogs are a source of inspiration for me (here) or just tweets. I try hard to make sure he gets credit for what I’ve learn (thanks, Paul). Hsieh is a radiologist with both a love and understanding of technology. His politics don’t always match mine, but it is always important to try to read what other people think.  One of the biggest problems with today’s politicians is they seem congenitally unable to do this, without painting the other side in a single ugly color.

Anyway, Hsieh writes editorials at the intersection of politics and medicine. He is a  free-market, small “l” libertarian. One of his latest op-eds is the title I’ve used. His post includes the required vignette about what has happened and what happens now. Most of his point, and Megan McArdle‘s,  who he quotes in his op-ed, is about the tax on medical inventions/innovations. The tax has become one part of the political football of Obamacare.

The argument about this tax, while significant, and the arguments about Obamacare, which sadden me and frustrate me in almost equal measures, is small potatoes for talking about medical/scientific innovation. Hsieh and McArdle are fiddling while Rome burns.

Some medical innovations do fall in the same basket as starting a restaurant or inventing software or even small appliances. People can come up with an idea, test it, and start a company, sell it before they are 35 and get rich.

But lots, especially drug development, and the basic science that is necessary to envision those inventions (and radiological innovations are a fine example of this) require more education and knowledge foundation than software coding. The story of Lorenzo’s Oil aside, lay people are not doing the work the underlies the foundations of medical innovations. It is not that lay people are stupid, or incapable of thinking like a scientist, or fundamentally different from scientists. It’s what the two groups have learned and what they have spent their time doing. Even the story Lorenzo involves enlisting scientists, researchers and others to bring the cure forward.

And, one more time, we are eating our young. The next generation of both the medical creators, and the folks developing the sciences for those innovations are hurting. Unless we invest in the current generation of scientists, there will be no one with the training, skills, or desire to make those innovations happen.

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