Technology Is Killing ObamaCare, But It Might Save The Rest of Us

(Photo: Leslie Smith Jr., USA TODAY)

(Photo: Leslie Smith Jr., USA TODAY)

Glenn Reynolds writes:  Despite all the problems with Obamacare, there’s some good news on the horizon for medical care and costs. The good news has nothing to do with exchanges, reimbursement rates or “navigators,” but everything to do with a phenomenon that has cut costs elsewhere in American society: technology.

We’re already seeing things that once took place only in doctors’ offices trickling out into the real world. I thought about this just the other day when reading that schools are stocking auto-injectors of epinephrine to deal with sudden, life-threatening allergy attacks. With these injectors, you don’t have to have any particular medical skill: “The tip of the device is placed firmly against the thigh, which releases a short, spring activated needle that injects the epinephrine.”

With a severe allergic reaction, by the time you got the victim to the hospital it would probably be too late. But with an auto-injector on the hand, you can administer life-saving treatment right away, and the technology makes it easy to store and easy to use.

This phenomenon holds true even for far more sophisticated technologies than just spring-loaded needles. Many schools — as well as malls, airports, and other public facilities — are installing Automated External Defibrillators. These are designed so that almost anyone can use them to administer life-saving resuscitation to someone whose heart has stopped or gone into deadly ventricular fibrillation. A computer in the device reads the victim’s EKG and administers a shock if called for. Voice commands tell the user what to do.

How simple are these gadgets? So simple that you can buy them on Amazon, to install in your home.

The proliferation of these defibrillators is a good thing, since sudden cardiac death is a serious problem, and it often strikes unlikely victims. But this is just the start.

Over time, I think we’ll see a lot more intelligence moving into medical devices covering a wide range of subjects. (And, in some cases, it may do the job better than a human doctor: When my wife had a heart attack at the age of 37, the EKG machine at the hospital flagged her reading as indicating a possible myocardial infarction, but the doctors dismissed that because she was a young, thin, athletic woman. The machine was right, and they were wrong.)

While we’re a long way from the “autodocs” featured in some science fiction stories, the proliferation of devices that can do extensive blood tests and diagnostic workups doesn’t seem that far away. Neither does the creation of freestanding gadgets that can diagnose things such as strep throat and other staples of doc-in-a-box or nurse-in-a-box practices now.

While such devices will be expensive at first, they’re likely to get steadily cheaper and more capable because, as electronic gadgets, they’ll benefit from Moore’s Law, the steady increase in computing power.

A few years ago, Andy Kessler wrote a book predicting just this kind of thing. It seemed plausible at the time, but it seems more plausible now. And while I’ve worried in the past that Obamacare might slow progress in these areas, the high costs (and high deductibles) of the policies we’re seeing under Obamacare make me think that it may instead push people toward this sort of alternative.

Can technology save us from our health care crisis? I think so. And, looking around, that seems like a good thing.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is professor of law at the University of Tennessee and the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself. He blogs at

Technology:  Glenn Reynolds – USAToday

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