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Breakthrough Analysis


by William E. Halal
Monday, October 15, 2007


Event | Data Points | Forecast Data Analysis | Trend Analysis | Articles  

Medicine is probably the least computerized industry in the world, which suggests enormous possibilities for improvement. Health care is a very complex field, which partly explains the problem, but it is also riven by institutional obstacles, such as resistance of physicians and hospital administrators to change. With the advent of out-of-control costs and more powerful IT systems, however, progressive hospitals are embracing various forms of telemedicine. TechCast thinks these advances could enter the mainstream about 2015 to save hundreds of billions of dollars, greatly improve health care, and provide more convenient service.

Event Being Forecast

IT systems are used 30% of the time to diagnose illness, order drugs and lab tests, monitor patients, maintain medical records, and other forms of health care.


Selected Data Points to Consider

The field is growing 30-50% per year. The CEO of Waterford Telemedicine Inc. expects it to cover 15% of all health care by 2015.

• U.S. hospital spending on telemedicine rose from $26B in '04 to $31B in '05. (BusinessWeek, 3/28/05)

• Electronic medical records are in the forefront of IT adoption, yet only 17% of U.S. physicians use them. (BusinessWeek, 9/21/06)

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Forecast Data Analysis

    Mean Std Dev N (# Experts)
Most Likely Year 2014 4 49
Market Size ($B) 320 172
Confidence (%) 68 14

In addition, 2 experts predicted that this event would never occur; mean confidence: 50%; std. dev.: 0.0.

Note: "Most Likely Year" is the year when this technology is expected to reach the adoption level stated under "Event Being Forecast" in industrial nations like the US, EU, and Japan. "Confidence" is the confidence our experts place in this forecst. "Market Size" estimates the potential market demand when this rechnology matures; global figures are not available, so this estimate is for the U.S. economy.

Forecast Chart

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Trend Analysis

PROS: Trends Driving this Event

  1. ADVANTAGES ARE ENORMOUS Some think telemedicine could save half of the $ 1.7 trillion the U.S. spent on healthcare in 2005, which is expected to reach 20% of the entire GDP by '07. It could also eliminate 80% of 98,000 deaths/year caused by medical errors. Business wants computerization to improve health care and reduce costs for employees; GM and GE, for instance, only patronize computerized hospitals because they are able to reduce costs by 30-40% while improving service. (Fortune, 11/24/03) For the same reason, Dell provides its employees an online health care system. "Every corporation is considering this," said the CEO of WebMD. (BusinessWeek, 4/7/06)

  2. THE TECHNOLOGY IS IMPROVING • IT systems increasingly allow health workers to access patient records, make notes, prescribe treatment, order drugs, and enter charges. “IT is ideal for healthcare services,” said a physician, while 80% of patients think computerized medical records are a good idea. (Washington Post, 3/15/05; 2/12/02)
    • Google and Microsoft are developing systems that computerize medical records and allow patients more control. (NY Times 8/14/07)
    • 32 U.S. states have interactive video systems allowing physicians to examine patients at a distance and take diagnostic data. (; Half of patients say they prefer virtual visits, and data shows the quality of care remains the same. “This will soon be just another way to do healthcare,” said a physician. (Washington Post, 6/2/02;
    • Computerized diagnosis is more accurate and is being offered by IBM (Technology Review, 12/8/03).
    • MRI and robotic devices allow diagnosis without exploratory surgery. Colonoscopy is being replaced by CT scanners. Small remotely controlled robots are being placed inside the body to perform operations more precisely with less trauma. (, 10/27/05)
    • The da Vince robotic operating system has increased usage from 1,500 operations in 2000 to 20,000 in '04. (BusinessWeek, 3/14/05) A woman in France had her gall bladder removed by a surgeon in New York City. (Futurist Jan-feb/02) In Italy, a robot performed the first surgical operation by long-distance from a Milan hospital on a patient in Boston. (ScienceDaily, 5/18/06)
    • IT software allows complete models of patients to be defined by medical data, which can be analyzed to diagnose illness.(Wired 2/05)
    • China’s Center for Disease Control has an IT system that allows daily updates from 16,000 hospitals. (, 10/19/04)
    • Harvard U. is using 2.5 million computerized patient medicial records to conduct medical studies. The professor in charge said "We want to use the healthcare system as a living laboratory." (, 7/3/05)
    • The U.S. military is developing a "trauma pod" using remotely controlled robots to perform battlefield telesurgery. (LA Times, 3/28/05)

  3. HOSPITALS ADOPTING IT • A survey found 70% of U.S. hospitals are planning to adopt telemedicine. (Newsweek 6/24/02) Dr. David Brailer, National Coordinator of Health IT, called the transformation of health care "inevitable." (Businessweek 10/31/05)
    Kaiser Permanente has a $2 billion project to move 9 million patients at 362 hospitals to web systems served by 10,000 medical staff.
    • The Detroit Medical Center gives 6,000 clinicians online access to patient records, medical databases, and ordering drugs and tests.
    • Brigham & Women’s Hospital uses 30,000 workstations to integrate all health care for 700,000 outpatients.

  4. MEDICAL EDUCATION Physician training is now IT intensive, including the use of PDAs, CD-ROM, and patient simulators. “The computer is the physician’s black bag of the future,” said the dean of a medical school.

CONS: Obstacles Opposing this Event

  1. A HUGE PROBLEM 90% of medical transactions are still conducted by paper and telephone. “Medicine remains a paper-driven system,” said a professor of medical informatics at Stanford (BusinessWeek, 10/15/03)

  2. OBSTACLES ABOUND Most hospitals are not interested, insurance usually does not cover telemedicine, physicians resist computers, and patients are fearful about privacy. And the complexity of IT systems often discourages use. One physician complained, "A task that once took 3 minutes suddenly devoured half an hour." (Washington Post, 3/21/05)

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