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2011-02-15

Where Should Our Brains Be? Continued...

Let's resume from our earlier post about the sociology of data visualization. 

So, are we leaving out the human element in our approach? The response is, "Of course not!" Yet, I should explain where we are in the development of our innovation. To explore that, one more digression is in order.

Monday and Tuesday last week, NC State University hosted the Emerging Issues Forum, an annual gathering of state leaders and experts on important issues of the day. This year's forum was on health care and featured Clayton Christensen. He has written a series of very influential books on innovation, leading off with The Innovator's Dilemma. His talk was an update to his thesis that innovation comes in two varieties--sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining in the sense that an organization is changing its product and service to better serve its current customers and hold or increase market share. Think of Sears during most of the 20th Century as the dominant retailer through its catalogs and retail stores in cities and towns. The other variety is disruptive innovation. That can come is several forms. One is essentially an intruder that offers a better value proposition to an underserved part of the market. Think here of WalMart and its rise in the late 20th Century as it moved into the towns and cities from rural areas, featuring substantially lower prices. Eventually WalMart eclipsed Sears as the dominant retailer in the United States. But that is not the only type of disruptive innovation. There is another variant sort of in the same domain--eBay. That is a reseller, but of people not previously engaged in such commerce at a global scale. eBay took the swap meet and put it online, bringing retailing to the masses and creating a global market where none existed before.

Christensen suggested that health care is ripe for disruptive innovation, particularly since the costs keep rising faster than economic growth. He suggested that there were two ways to look at that. The first is to recognize that systems tend to centralize services overtime. In his narrative, we once had the solution come to us when a physician made a house call. (I still remember Dr. Ball coming to my house when we all had chicken pox.) The advent of diagnostic and treatment technology started forcing the patient go to the physician's office or even the pinnacle of medical infrastructure--the hospital. No wonder healthcare spending rose as the costs of infrastructure (both equipment and expertise) grew in scope. Despite these changes and the centralization of care, he noted the evolving character of technologies emerging that allow for hand held ultrasound diagnostic machines to be used by primary care providers that do well enough for everyday medical issues. Rather than pay for the truck-sized MRI and PET scanners, these devices can do some of that job in the physician's offices. For the equipment manufacturers, that opened a new market that the big scanning companies had overlooked. Therefore, he thought that such developments might foster a countercyclical decentralization of healthcare with the big caveat that all other things remain neutral.

(More to come!)

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