DIY Medical Devices: No Science, Please

An article about DIY medical devices — devices created outside of big companies — does illustrate the predatory nature of our health care system:

It can still be difficult for inventors to break into the medical-device market. Amy Baxter, a pediatrician specializing in pain management, found this out firsthand. When her four-year-old son developed a fear of needles, Baxter set up shop in her basement and created Buzzy, a vibrating ice pack shaped like a bee that numbs the sting of injections. . . She says, “I decided to use my solution as a mother to be a better — more globally impactful — doctor.” Baxter held randomized controlled trials comparing the device to ethyl chloride spray and published the results. But when she launched the product in 2009, she found it nearly impossible to get her product into hospitals.

“It’s the nature of the system marketing to hospitals to pad prices and make items disposable to ensure repeat sales,” she says. Medical sales reps paid on commission will only take the time to push a new product if it is very expensive, with a high profit margin, or if it’s a cheap item that has to be reordered often, she says. “A reusable, low-cost product doesn’t work.”

On the other end, she says, hospitals’ complex budgetary processes often disconnect the physicians who order products — and pass the price on to patients and insurance companies — from their true cost. “Decisions to buy aren’t as straightforward as looking at a catalog,” she says. “There is no easy way to comparison shop, and less incentive in the medical environment.”

The result of all this inefficiency [which curiously works only in one direction -- to make things worse for consumers and better for health care professionals], Baxter says, is not only notoriously inflated hospital prices — like $36.78 for a $0.50 Tylenol with codeine pill and $154 for a $19.99 neck brace — but also a high barrier to entry for devices like Buzzy, which is currently available only online, with no marketing beyond word of mouth.

A predatory relationship is one where one side is much more powerful than the other side and uses that power to take from the other side.

The article says nothing about science — better understanding of the connection between environment and health. Science is so poorly understood by so many people that even a doctor, such as Baxter, fails to understand that it exists:

The more people become involved in medical making, says Baxter, the less the human body will seem like a mysterious black box whose problems and solutions are only within the realm of experts. [Not true. Making is not science. There is still a great need for science -- Seth] “The truth is,” she says, “the place where the body interfaces with the rest of the world is just engineering.”

No, it isn’t just engineering. There is a vast amount we don’t know about the world’s effect on the body. Even a small improvement in understanding how environment (including food) controls health (e.g., how to sleep better) can easily be worth billions of dollars per year, more than all DIY medical devices put together. And knowledge (and the associated benefits) spreads at no cost at all, in contrast to medical devices.

Engineers assume people will get sick. Scientists do not.

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

4 Responses to “DIY Medical Devices: No Science, Please”

  1. dearieme Says:

    ““I decided to use my solution as a mother to be a better — more globally impactful — doctor.” More globally bloody impactful? Jail her for assault and battery on the English language.

  2. garymar Says:

    “This is where DIY is exquisitely powerful: you make it for yourself, your friends and loved ones. You have a vested interest in making it work.”

    This sounds very similar to the philosophy of this blog.

  3. Trev Says:

    The UK is heading the same way. And even worse than that is the fact that the grown ups letting it happen. Looks like Huxley was more right than Orwell.

  4. Sidney Phillips Says:

    I am in medical school right now. My training in nutrition at my school consisted of one powerpoint lecture on vitamins. That’s how it is in most schools. Doctors do not understand proper nutrition, beyond telling patients to “eat a balanced diet”.

    I have gained so much benefit from going gluten free, removing mercury fillings, and getting 23andme genetic analysis done (learned I have methylation cycle defects). It is amazing how in the last 2 months I have done more to help my health on my own than doctors have ever done for me.

    I hope to be a different kind of doctor, one who actually spends more than 10 minutes with a patient and can explain proper nutrition and lifestyle choices. Sadly, with the way healthcare is heading I don’t see myself being part of healthcare teams with nurses running the show (insert sarcastic “thanks Obama!”). I think I will probably have my own concierge practice in a wealthy area like Beverly Hills or Manhattan.