Monday, June 27, 2011

Michele Bachmann brings Serious Medicine to Newsmax--and to America

Michele Bachmann continues to point America toward more hope in medicine.  That's a good policy, and so, of course, it's also good politics.   In a new interview with Newsmax's David A. Patten, she is asked about the Paul Ryan Medicare plan, and she both defends the cuts as necessary and then launches into a larger discussion of medical transformation.   Here's the passage:

Newsmax: Democrats hope to make a major campaign issue out of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare entitlements through a voucher system. You have some concerns yourself about the plan…

Rep. Michele Bachmann: I absolutely agree with the Ryan plan on the trajectory of spending. My asterisk, if you will, on the Ryan plan is on how we message this idea of reducing federal government spending. What I believe is that we want to offer a better quality of life for senior citizens and people need to know that this plan should be called “The 55 and Under Plan.” We don’t want anyone who is 78 years of age, who is depending on Medicare, to think that their Medicare is going to be pulled out from under them. It won’t be. We’re talking about people who are 55 years of age and younger, who will actually have a far better plan to choose from than the one that will be de-facilitated, if we continue down Medicare. Also, I think it’s important that people know that we want to focus not just on numbers, and not just on insurance options, but we want to focus on cures -- cures for Alzheimer’s, cures for diabetes. 

Those are the key words, as the bottom: "We want to focus on cures--cures for Alzheimer's, cures for diabetes."  That's a breath of fresh air.

Everyone knows that Republicans want to cut the growth of Medicare--so do, indeed, the Democrats.  So the breakout issue is not on the finance side, but rather, on the science side.  That is, cures and hope.  Bachmann makes the same point on her campaign website:

As President, I will work to unleash the power of medical innovation and personal choices. Because a cure is always better and cheaper than care – after all, it was once predicted we would spend billions a year on polio. I will empower your families and doctors, not unelected bureaucrats, to make the right decisions about the shape and form of your health insurance, your quality of care and your course of treatment. And I will push for greater competition in the healthcare market.

Exactly.  On top of Bachmann's many other strengths as a leader, she has articulated a transformative Jack Kemp-like issue that benefits all Americans.  And the economic benefits, too, are incalculable, in terms of savings to government programs such as Medicare, as well as the jobs and wealth that would be created within the healthcare sector, selling not only to America, but also to the world.

Just as Jack Kemp provided the intellectual firepower to energize the US economy in the 70s, so Bachmann could do it again in the 21st century.

Friday, June 17, 2011

An X-Prize for a Tricorder. And hurray for Qualcomm.

Earlier this year, I speculated on the prospect of a Tricorder as an ultimate vision for digitalizing healthcare records, improving healthcare outcomes, and moving patients nearer to the level of medical equality with doctors.  (That's not a rap on doctors, merely an observation that more high quality information is better than less.)

Admittedly, the Tricorder was a fictional invention, from "Star Trek," but as with so many other inventions, it has to be imagined before it can be invented.  Indeed, to go back and look at the original Tricorder, from nearly half-a-century ago is to be reminded that personal electronics have actually gone further by today than people back in the 60s thought they would by the 23rd century.   The ubiquitous iPhone is, in fact, the beginning of a Tricorder process; it just needs a lot more apps.

And so if the imagination part of the challenge is in gear, we can now note that new things often must be incented before they can be invented.

If that's true, then we just took a big step forward, thanks to Qualcomm.   As Brian Dolan writes in MobiHealthNews reports:

Marty Cooper, the inventor of the modern cell phone, has on occasion credited the fictional TOS Communicator device, featured in the 1960s television series Star Trek, as inspiration for the mobile phone. While the mobile phone has served as the de facto platform for most mobile health services today, yet another device from the very same popular science fiction series could inspire a new generation of inventors: The Tricorder.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of participating in a “visioneering” meeting set up by the X Prize Foundation, which is working to set up a new X Prize that would incentivize the development of a device similar to the handheld diagnostic device featured in Star Trek. Qualcomm has already agreed to fund the development phase of the Tricorder X Prize (the name may change), but a prize sponsor for the competition (one of the prizes is a $10 million check) has yet to sign on.

For those unfamiliar, the X Prize Foundation has set up a number of “audacious” yet “achievable” competitions over the years, including private space flight; self-driving cars; affordable genome sequencing. A Tricorder-like device is right up there.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a mobile solution that can diagnose patients, better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians,” Michael Timmons, X Prize Foundation spokesman, told NPR in an interview this week. “So essentially what it would do is enable anyone, pretty much at any location, to quickly and successfully assess health conditions.”

Qualcomm Vice President Don Jones provided NPR with his vision for the type of system this competition might inspire:

s, software, kind of innovative approaches to collecting data and information to make it really, really easy to make a diagnosis. And do it in a way that’s relatively inexpensive, lightweight, small, portable,” Jones said. “And as minimally invasive as possible.”
“Come up with sensor

If it comes to fruition, the Tricorder X Prize competition will become a key catalyst for mobile health devices and services. Actually, after spending the last day and a half with two dozen healthcare “visioneers” discussing the potential future for health devices and services, I am certain it already has.

We can't yet know if this X-Prize effort will be successful.  But what we do know is that once the human imagination is unleashed, the results will astound the skeptics and the cynics and the naysayers. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Serious Medicine meets the economic crisis: If you can't afford to retire till your 80s, it will help to be healthy

Robert Powell, writing for MarketWatch, makes this provocative assertion: Many of us will have keep working into our 80s to afford "retirement," what remains of it, after that:

We all think it’s a panacea. If you don’t have enough money saved for retirement, you’ve got a few ways to close the gap between what you have and what you need in your nest egg: Save more, invest more aggressively, and/or work longer.

Well, it turns out that working longer is indeed an option, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute latest study. The only problem is that the latest research shows that you’ll have to work much longer than you anticipated. In fact, many Americans will have to keep on working well into their 70s and 80s to afford retirement, according to the study, titled “The Impact of Deferring Retirement Age on Retirement Income Adequacy.”

Needless to say, not everyone will agree with these bleak conclusions, but as we read the grim economic news--falling stock prices, falling real estate values--we are all free to draw our own conclusions about the future economic prospects for the nation.

The Serious Medicine implications are these: If people will need to work for, say, five decades, instead of four decades, then it's their interest, and our interest, for them to be as healthy as possible. And so that means real focus on the chronic diseases that afflict the aging and the elderly--Alzheimer's, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, for example.   Because if our workforce isn't healthy enough to work, then where does that leave us?