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Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives
 
Content provided by GE
Ideas Roundtable: Advancing the Conversation Around Topics that Shape Our Lives

Improving the Nation's Health with More Efficient Healthcare

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The information displayed in GE's Working in America data visualization helps us understand today's economic situation. Let's appreciate that the economy is driven by technological change and that the labor force not only contains the "vital few" who do the innovating and the new business formation (engineers and entrepreneurs) but also the army of talented and well-trained people who move the innovations forward. The IT industry could not have emerged without the genius engineers who could imagine holding information in silicate chips and then design and produce them in ever increasing capability; but it also required programmers who could communicate with computers by writing code.

Health and education jobs grew sevenfold in the last fifty years. What have we to show for this? I would propose not much. Anyone who will speak honestly about healthcare knows it has set new standards of inefficiency in the use of labor. One reason the Affordable Care Act had to come into existence was labor inefficiency. (Well over 80 percent of all healthcare costs are labor!) And everyone has dozens of examples of how overstaffing across all industries has created terrible customer experiences (Amtrak and the Post Office come to mind), and also led to examples of inadequate care. 

One of the major causes of this inefficiency, specifically within healthcare, is the hyper division of labor. How efficient is it to say that only one person on a medical team can draw blood? Once upon a time doctors and nurses drew blood. Now the phlebotomist is in charge of this task. With hyper-specialization has come job stagnation. Without more knowledge and general training, most of the new medical "professionals" of today will never move up the ladder inside the clinic or hospital where they work. New technology will solve these and many other of the labor-intensive costs problems in healthcare. For example, it is only a matter of time until the home-administered blood tests that diabetics use will be expanded to provide information on the blood-based indicators of many diseases. Not only will we have no more need for a separate occupation that draws blood but much of the labor-intensive laboratory work will be done at home.

The future of healthcare can become more efficient. Innovation is critically needed not in medical technology or financing but in clinical encounters. The way a doctor deals with a patient is unchanged since the beginning of medicine. If we are figuring out ways that education and learning can be made into distant events, surely we could reduce the number of physician encounters by gathering important data remotely and developing artificial intelligence systems where only more serious or emerging matters need attention. I am certain that, perhaps unlike education, health care can be improved by technology that replaces doctor decision-making in a little room with very limited information. The future needs our nation's resources spent more efficiently. Unneeded doctor encounters numbering in the tens of millions can be avoided and at the same time provide patients with better care in new forms of consumer encounters that make people much happier.

To learn more about who's been working in America since 1960, explore the above Working in America data visualization »

Carl J. Schramm - Carl J. Schramm is University Professor at Syracuse University. For ten years he was president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. He is co-author with Robert E. Litan of Better Capitalism: Renewing the Entrepreneurial Strength of the American Economy (September 2012, Yale University Press).

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