Misdiagnosis remains a serious problem in modern healthcare, explained Gregory Sorensen, MD, CEO of Siemens Healthcare North America at the keynote of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA) Med Tech Showcase. Sorensen, a specialist in neuroradiology, pointed to a JAMA study that found nearly one death in five in a well-regarded medical intensive care unit was misdiagnosed.

June 6, 2012

5 Min Read
Healthcare Problems Are Tremendous; So Are the Opportunities to Address Them, Says Siemens Healthcare CEO

Misdiagnosis remains a serious problem in modern healthcare, explained Gregory Sorensen, MD, CEO of Siemens Healthcare North America at the keynote of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA) Med Tech Showcase. Sorensen, a specialist in neuroradiology, pointed to a JAMA study that found nearly one death in five in a well-regarded medical intensive care unit was misdiagnosed. He added that, in malpractice cases, there are typically higher payoffs for misdiagnosis than for mistreatment. 

SorensenIn his talk, Sorensen addressed a number of big topics, stressing, for instance, that there are many diseases for which treatment is lacking or is ineffective. “There are tremendous unmet medical needs and tremendous opportunities to improve human health,” he explained, adding that the field needs more innovation and risk taking to help solve healthcare’s biggest challenges. For medtech companies that are in search of a healthcare problem to tackle, he recommended going to the World Health Organization website to find data on the global burden of diseases.

Convergence

Sorensen explained that the healthcare needs throughout the world are beginning to converge. “In America, people want better care for less money. In the developing world, they just want more care, but they are very price sensitive.”

Consequently, no matter what ultimately happens with the Affordable Care Act, the goal of providing better value in healthcare will remain a key trend going forward. As a result, the medtech industry should focus less on developing new technologies with the “latest whiz bang features” and focus more on helping patients. 

Another trend that is hard to miss is the growing role of information technology (IT) in healthcare. While healthcare institutions are investing unprecedented amounts on IT, the amount the healthcare is investing on IT is still lower than most other others industries, Sorensen explained. As the healthcare infrastrucure continues to consolidate, more people “are going to realize that they need better IT tools to manage their growth and their cost structures. I expect we’ll see more IT spending because we still have all of this inefficiency [in healthcare].”

Systems like IBM’s Watson will likely be harnessed to improve diagnostics and help integrate the growing amounts of clinical data to enable physicians to better do their job. “This is the Checklist Manifesto writ large. Even the best of us [physicians] benefit from having a systematic way of reminding us what we need to consider.”

“One of the revolutions that we are going to see sooner or later in medicine is the spread of care from the hospital ‘temple’ out into the periphery into day-to-day lives.”

In the future, clinicians will not only be more effective at addressing disease. Patients will become better equipped to take responsibility for their own healthcare. “One of the revolutions that we are going to see sooner or later in medicine is the spread of care from the hospital ‘temple’ out into the periphery into day-to-day lives,” Sorensen said. “I think that is the way we will get costs down, when people take ownership of their own illness to some degree.”  

Sorensen also pointed out that the link between diagnostics and therapy is growing, adding that many of the diagnostic systems developed at Siemens are being used more for monitoring treatment than for initial diagnosis.

The therapeutic part of the healthcare equation has much room for improvement. One of the biggest source of waste today is that, on average, how few people benefit from the drugs we give them, Sorensen said. "In most areas, 40 to 60% of the people [who are prescribed a drug] don’t respond." In the case of depression, patients are given an antidepressant, which they take for six weeks. If it proves ineffective, the patient is given a new antidepressent and the process repeats. "This is very time consuming and wasteful." 

Genomics could have profoundly improve diagnostics but genomics needs to become less expensive before it really takes off, adding that he predicted the tipping point would be the $5-genome. Once it is that inexpensive, a physician could order the sequencing of the bacterial or viral flora in, say, a patient with pneumonia.

Siemens Healthcare has an international line diagnostic imaging systems. Pictured here is its SOMATOM Definition Flash CT scanner. 

A Systems Approach

While one way to improve healthcare efficiency is to more precisely determine needs of of specific patients, another strategy is to take a systems approach. "But we [at Siemens] are thinking: how can we improve efficiency at a systems level?"

One example of this is the fact that Siemens uses remote diagnostics for its CT scanners. We know every time a CT scanner turns, which in turn means we know who is using our products a lot and who is using them a little," Sorensen said. "That is syste- wide information that we should be able to use to drive uniformity and efficiencies. It is a new kind of thinking around an old kind of instrument. That is the kind of thinking the whole healthcare system needs." 

Sorensen concluded with a line out of business school. "When someone goes to the store to buy a quarter inch drill, what they really want is a quarter inch hole," he said. "We are thinking all about building drills, when we should be thinking about what our customer wants. I would encourage all of us as entrepreneurs or as thinkers who are sort of business oriented [to think this way]." In the end, it's all about the patients and the physicians who care for them. 

Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.  

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