NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disruptive Innovation In Health Care

December 19, 2000

In many industries, disruptive innovations have enabled less-skilled people to perform tasks in a more convenient, less expensive setting that could previously only be performed by expensive specialists in centralized, inconvenient locations. This has been one of the fundamental engines of economic progress -- and one that established health care institutions have fought tooth and nail, say some Harvard University researchers.

For example, a portable X-ray machine was developed that uses night-vision technology borrowed from the military. It could revolutionize radiology. The operating costs are 10 percent of conventional x-ray technology, allowing physicians to use it in their office and transport it from room to room. This innovation faces many hurdles, however.

  • Radiology suppliers were not interested since it threatened their existing business.
  • Radiologists would be reluctant to embrace it since widespread use might reduce their referrals.
  • Regulators would likely refuse to approve it because of opposition from the radiologists who help set safety standards.
  • Hospitals would fight it because it would reduce their radiology business.

Yet, this is would not diminish quality of care. When care is complex, expensive and inconvenient, many afflictions simply go untreated. Portable x-ray technology would likely allow more people to obtain care sooner.

Source: Clayton M. Christensen, Richard Bohmer, and John Kenagy, "Will Disruptive Innovation Cure Health Care?," Harvard Business Review, Sept.-Oct. 2000.


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