The Healthcare Innovation Spectrum: From Washing Hands to Cognitive Computing

There's a spectrum of ways to innovate in healthcare. On one end is simple stuff, like making sure things are clean and germ-free. On the other end is exotic stuff, like using AI: Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing. Obvious questions: (1) where is the money going? (2) where is the value? (3) Is the money going where the value is? Simple answer: the "smart" money is going to exotic gee-gaws, ignoring near-term value and patient health.

Where the Money is going

The money is clearly going to exotica. Ignoring for the moment the billions IBM and others are pouring into what they call Cognitive Computing, VC's are investing heavily in healthcare-directed AI. See this:

We're talking serious money here:

While there are loads of conferences, trials, talks and articles talking about the great future here, there is an obvious conclusion to be drawn: while the money is being spent now, the benefits (if any) are in the future.

That's about all you need to say about it.

The middle of the spectrum

While things like AI are clearly at one far end of the spectrum of healthcare innovation, there are intelligent, educated things in the middle of spectrum. Lots of people are pursuing these innovations with great energy. I've discussed an example of one such approach here.

The Oak HC/FT portfolio company VillageMD is another clear example of data-driven innovation in healthcare. No new math or fancy computers are required. "Just" educated, dedicated people looking at the data and making required behavioral changes based on those facts. The founder of VillageMD, Clive Fields, just won a major award for his work, using all-organic and natural intelligence -- no artificial ingredients! Guess what: it's here and now! The outcomes of real patients are being improved as you read this!

The basic end of the spectrum

On the other end of the spectrum from AI, we've got things that shouldn't need "innovation." They should be standard practice. They have huge impact. They are the shocking, scandalous modern equivalent of antiseptic surgery -- things that no one seriously disagrees with, but which the important experts and leadership type people somehow can't lower themselves to pay serious attention to. Or when they pay attention, it's with actions that do nothing to solve the problems.

A good candidate for the poster child of this end of the spectrum is what the CDC calls healthcare-associated infections, HAI's. In other words, getting sick from going to the hospital. Here is the CDC's summary of the situation:

I don't know about you, but this makes me sick. 75,000 preventable deaths in a year, preventable using non-exotic methods. No Cognitive Computing required! There are cures, demonstrated at multiple hospitals that have put serious effort into it. This article summarizes the efforts and approaches, ranging from simple changes of cleaning practices to fancy new machines.


There's a clear spectrum of innovation in healthcare, ranging from blocking-and-tackling basics at one end, to exotic new things based on various forms of Artificial Intelligence at the other end, with smart, non-exotic, data-driven methods occupying the middle ground. Most of the "smart" money appears to be going to the fancy exotic end, with results sometime in the indefinite future, while the rest of the spectrum trundles along, largely under the radar, delivering results to patients today.