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Stanford biodesign: A focus on saving lives without increasing costs

biodesign fellows - cropped

Here’s a conundrum: Medical technology saves lives every day, but it has also been one of the key drivers of health-care cost increases. How do you get the advances without the costs?

The leaders of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign have been training new medical-device innovators for 15 years now, with great success. But on their 15 year anniversary, bioengineer Paul Yock, MD, and other leaders of the program made a conscious decision to address that cost conundrum. They are now training innovators who help lower costs instead of raising them.

I wrote about this pivot in my recent Stanford Medicine magazine story:

This shift is both practical and personal. Personal because, though they are proud of improvements they’ve made to patient care, Yock and the other leaders of Stanford Biodesign recognize that collectively, new medical technologies are contributing to the cost crisis in health care. Practical because in order to fight those cost increases, insurance companies are exploring new reimbursement policies, in some cases limiting the ability of hospitals or clinics to get reimbursed for expensive devices. These changes hurt the prospects of a new device that was designed without an understanding of today’s health-care economics.

Prior to working on this story I’ll admit that I thought of the Biodesign program as a way of spinning off new medical technology companies. Not that that’s bad, but it does sort of lack heart.

This story changed the way I thought of the program. Yes, fellows have gone on to found a lot of companies (41 to be exact), but former fellow Todd Brinton, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine, points out that new technology never reaches patients without a company to develop that product. Creating companies is the only way for patients to benefit.

Surgeon and former fellow Tom Krummel, MD, said that on his own he can only help one patient at a time. But by creating a successful device he can help patients all over the world. “That’s a great reason to get up in the morning and go to work," he told me. "In the end, given that we are all consumers of health care, anything that can be better, safer, cheaper — there’s a public good there.”

Previously: Strive, thrive and take five: Stanford Medicine magazine on the science of well-beingBiodesign at Stanford: A whopping success, “We have been very successful in training high-tech innovators in the last 15 years:” A look at Stanford Biodesign and The next challenge for biodesign: constraining health-care costs
Photo, of biodesign fellows Jonathan Schwartz, MD, and Elise DeVries, by Gregg Segal

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