Here Come the Geeks

May 3, 2010, 6:57 AM, Posted by

 I’m not a techie.  I’m not an IT guy.  But I found myself among a group of them this weekend at FOO Camp East, put on by O’Reilly Media (FOO stands for Friends Of O’Reilly.).  It was at an O’Reilly meeting years ago where the term ‘Open Source’ was coined—a good example of how the right language can create both a center of gravity and momentum.

There was some tech talk, some device talk, some website talk, but also a lot of health care talk.  It’s interesting to listen to the not-so-usual-suspects talk about health care.  There is a lot about the system they don’t know.  There’s a lot about the state of policy they don’t know.  There’s a lot about reimbursement, about medical care itself they don’t know.  But I came away thinking it would be foolish to dismiss these folks because of the lot of things they don’t know.  It’s the things they do know and the lens through which they look at problems that are powerful and can be very useful.

They look at data sources and streams, they think about building platforms that can enable innovation broadly (as compared to platforms that enable a single business), they think about engineering systems, about hacks to existing systems and about alternative business models.  In one conversation, it was suggested that instead of just paying going rates for tests to diagnose, we ought to apportion payment as a function of its marginal contribution to diagnosis.  If you’ve already done three tests and ruled out 90% of the serious problems of most concern, the likelihood that the next test will turn up an uncommon yet serious problem is pretty low.  So why do a CAT scan?  Under this approach, if you want to do a CAT scan, fine, but you only get 10% of the going rate.  Now, I’m not necessarily advocating this approach, but it was fun to think about it for a while.

My guess is that 15, 10, maybe even five years ago, most of these folks would not have been much interested in health care as an opportunity because the data sources were not robust enough, the social networking platforms were too narrow—there just wasn’t enough infrastructure.  Now, I suspect there is enough.  Is health care ready?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.