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Commentary

Disruptive Innovation: Can Health Care Learn From Other Industries? A Conversation with Clayton M. Christensen
Health Affairs, 3-13-07

Christensen, a noted Harvard Business School professor and consultant, argues in this Health Affairs interview that health care costs will drop once innovations make "more and more areas of care cheaper, simpler, and more in the hands of patients."

In an interview featured as a Health Affairs Web Exclusive, Christensen talks with CHCF President and CEO Mark Smith about technology and disruptive innovation in health care...

Smith: That description—that there's a set of customers that isn't profitable to a given industry and therefore not well served by it—reminds me of many of today's uninsured people. What do you think this model in other industries might have to offer for one of our most difficult social issues?

Christensen: I'll offer a historical example. When computing began, the machines were incredibly complex and expensive, and so only a few people owned mainframe computers, and you had to have a lot of expertise to operate them. So most people just didn't have access. How was computing going to be made accessible to more people? Would we somehow try to drive down the cost of a mainframe computer or cut the pay of the operators of the mainframe systems? Of course not. Someone had to develop a personal computer that was affordable and simple.

So the way that we can make health care accessible to the uninsured isn't to get the today's health care institutions to somehow become low cost or to get the expensive specialist physicians to somehow accept pay cuts. Rather, we will make it accessible for those people only by enabling or making more capable lower–cost providers and lower–cost venues of care. An example would be technology that allows you to do in an outpatient clinic or doctor's office things that historically you had to do in a hospital, and by enabling nurses to do things that historically a doctor had to do. Those would be disruptive innovations in the context of health care.

One current example in favor of Christensen's argument is the low–cost health clinics that are popping up in drugstores and department stores across the country, like MinuteClinic and RediClinic.

There is also an entire book devoted to this line of argument, The End of Medicine, by Andy Kessler.



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