Technology in healthcare is moving from mainframes to iPhones

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New technologies are often first manifested in behemoth machines that may take up entire rooms, only to be miniaturized as the technology matures. We have witnessed this shift over the last 70 years in computers, and an analogous trend is now underway in healthcare.

Startups across the world are transforming capabilities that were once relegated to specialty labs with large, expensive capital equipment and highly trained technicians. For example, in the early 2000s, Celera Genomics used nearly 300 DNA sequencers and 7,000 processors, and cost nearly $100 million to complete the sequence of one human genome.

Today, an entire human genome can be run on a desktop machine for less than $1,000. Beyond DNA sequencing, new companies focusing on everything from flu to strokes are moving the technology, revenue and data from a few centralized companies to the doctors and patients that need it the most.

The benefits of these technologies are numerous. Disaggregating testing from large centralized labs to the clinic or the home will broadly lower costs, enhance patient outcomes and provide better overall access to care. Historically, the capital and operational costs of this large equipment have required centralized facilities to be amortized over many samples.

This industry can now benefit from the cost reductions enabled by the mass manufacturing of consumer electronics. Optics, microfluidics and electronics are nearly an order of magnitude less expensive than just a decade ago. Combined with novel chemistry and smarter software, these tests are at cost parity or better than their centralized counterparts.

Beyond the costs of the tests themselves, the fees associated with hospital-based diagnostics have grown exponentially, and many labs are overloaded with patient samples. Additional costs due to factors such as hospital administration and insurance can quickly overtake the cost of a test itself.

In-clinic and in-home tests remove the overhead attributed to hospital operation, significantly reducing the overall cost of diagnostics.  These tests also improve the availability, as they remove the time waiting for equipment or staff.

It is well documented that a fast and accurate diagnosis are critical for ensuring patient outcomes across a wide variety of diseases. Quicker diagnosis enables the correct rapid treatment, minimizes hospitalization rates and reduces the over-prescription of antibiotics.

By bringing these tools to the bedside and reducing time to diagnosis from days to minutes, the quality of patient outcomes will increase.

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