By Tom Still
MADISON – Some people are skeptical when they hear about alleged “breakthroughs” in biotechnology or medical technology. That’s understandable. Some of these innovations have come with higher upfront costs, raised expectations or ethical doubts. Others have been reduced to 30-second television ads with 10 seconds worth of disclaimers. In many cases, the medical profession itself is hesitant to adopt new technologies because the pace of change is so frenzied.
On balance, however, there’s no denying that technology is profoundly changing health care in the United States – and for the better. Two November conferences in Wisconsin will show how the state’s researchers, companies and investors are in the vanguard.
The 20th Wisconsin Life Sciences & Venture Conference in Madison (Monona Terrace Convention Center) and the first Evolving Healthcare Technology Conference in Milwaukee (Medical College of Wisconsin) will be showcases for innovation in Wisconsin and the Midwest. Those events are why Gov. Jim Doyle has declared Nov. 1-7 “Health Sciences and Technology Recognition Week” in Wisconsin.
At the Life Sciences & Venture Conference on Nov. 3-5, venture capitalists and other investors will hear or see presentations from about 30 companies with marketable ideas in biotechnology, drug development, food sciences and medical devices. They will also be able to attend about a dozen scientific presentations. At the Healthcare Technology conference on Nov. 7, attendees will be able to learn more about the intersection of medicine and information technology.
These conferences will underscore the fact that the tech revolution isn’t just changing how you get information or conduct business, but how you stay healthy.
Innovation in biotech and medical devices – often pushed by information technology – has the potential to save and improve patients’ lives and improve the efficiency and productivity of our health-care system. Better technology can reduce treatment and recovery time, control pain, cut the length of hospital stays and offer lower-cost alternatives to expensive treatments. Examples where technology is already saving lives and money include treatments for cardiovascular disease, women’s health and surgical technologies. That’s only the beginning.
Fields such as tissue engineering, personalized medicine, genomics, zoonotics and molecular imaging – all of which are core competencies in Wisconsin – are leading to advances that may have been unimaginable a few years ago. At the Marshfield Clinic, for example, researchers are embarking on a personalized medicine program that will increase the efficiency of drugs by tailoring them to genetic differences.
Medical technologies also save money through earlier diagnosis, when health conditions are easier and less expensive to treat. Health information systems, such as those being put into place nationally by Madison’s Epic Systems, can improve patient care, reduce medical errors and control hospital costs. Cutting the death rate associated with medical errors and adverse drug reactions alone would save billions of dollars – and untold human misery.
Maximizing the value of biotechnology and medical technology is central to helping people lead longer, better and more productive lives, as well as curing some of the ills of our health-care system. Not every research idea or new technology will work. Some will be expensive and even controversial flops. But the critical mass of research and innovation that is emerging in Wisconsin will, over time, save money and lives.
The Wisconsin Life Sciences & Venture Conference in Madison is a reminder that Wisconsin has a growing biotech industry built around about 100 companies, mostly small, with ties to much larger research and tech transfer institutions. The Evolving Healthcare Technology Conference will point to the growth in Wisconsin’s “medical devices cluster,” which is the nation’s 11th largest in terms of the number of workers. Collectively, they represent one of Wisconsin’s economic strengths.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.