The world is waiting upon “the next great breakthrough”. There was first anaesthesia and hygiene that came almost at the same time, then there was penicillin, and now, hovering in the wings are cheap stem-cell treatment and cheap medicines that are genetically tailored to the patient.
A good machine is cheap, reliable, easy to use, and addresses a common problem for far less money than previously spent upon the solution; I suspect that all those have already been invented.
In the meantime, the present area for exploitation is machines that are high cost, high speciality, low volume production and have a small customer base. There is not much doubt that the law of diminishing returns has kicked in; it costs more and more to achieve less and less.
In broader, international terms, the question is: “Can we make a profit if we buy this machine? Will it, at least, pay for itself?”
In many countries the question is, “Can we even afford to think of this machine, even if it will save money in the long run?”
In the UK, there is N.I.C.E., The National Institute for Clinical Excellence
. What NICE does is to measure the effectiveness of a medicine/equipment against its cost: if it gives you one more day of life but costs £1million, it is not going to be available to the state health system; if it costs £0.01p and gives 20 years of life, everyone will have it.
This seems fair, but the difficulty comes in the fuzzy area in the middle in which the value of a human life must be assessed. It may seem that this is a cost of socialised medicine, but, in truth, some similar calculation is made by every hospital manager everywhere.
The point of all this is that producing medical equipment, particularly expensive, specialised stuff, is not a comfortable area of business. The belief that people will be willing and able
to pay for anything at all
that extends their life by a few months is losing favour because even the rich are finding it harder to pay.