I’m not a fan of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but my issue isn’t the same as most conservatives who believe that it is an unearned entitlement for folks who don’t want to work. My issue is that it isn’t affordable. This is because health care in the U.S., far from being the best in the world (we just beat Slovenia at 37), is number one in cost. The core of the problem is that it isn’t affordable—not that it isn’t available. I maintain that if the government would have fixed the affordable part first, it could have implemented nationalized health care and even the wealthy and young would have saved money.
I was reminded of this idea while chatting with the Dell OEM group today. This is a secret group (i.e., secret because it has a tiny marketing budget) inside Dell with billions in annual revenue and high double-digit growth. One of the first verticals they penetrated was medical (they are now in everything from networking to manufacturing and even automotive) and they highlighted the massive reductions in cost as a result of their technology. It struck me that pushing the envelope a bit further could not only make health care more affordable, thus fixing my problem with the ACA, but also actually making it more effective as well. Let me explain.
Dell OEM builds highly customized computers for specific industries and companies. This isn’t a build-to-order PC where Dell has a line that it configures for you, this is where an organization defines what it needs in a computer and Dell builds it from scratch based on those requirements. Dell’s advantages are know-how and scale. Organizations get the cost reductions associated with a firm that buys components at very high volumes and the expertise—hard learned—on how to make a solution. The first assures that hardware cost savings are more in line with a high-volume product and the second, arguably more important, assures that the resulting offering, which will consist of hardware, software, and some kind of sustained services, has been vetted by experts. This is particularly handy for new companies that would otherwise learn expensively by trial and error.
When I first was briefed on this group about four years ago, it was less than half the size it is today, showcasing the incredible growth. So I’ve been fascinated by this group for some time. I think it actually is better focused on dealing with the whole “death of the PC” thing than any other function because the next generation of computers is likely to be both far more standard and built into other products. Take a look at the Tesla Model S, for instance—it is basically a high-end, connected tablet bundled with Web service wrapped with wheels and a car body. And it represents the future of the automotive industry, which is just one of the massive numbers of industries that are imbedding computers into their products.
The health care example within the Dell OEM group that caught my interest was a diagnosis machine that had been built for remote locations. At its heart, it had a Dell computer that was custom-designed for the machine with a wide variety of sensors and automated analysis sub-systems. This machine was designed to diagnose patients and it is connected with a pool of doctors who are centrally located, which dropped the cost from over $200 to under $60. In addition, because a group of doctors uses it, patients get the benefit of a much broader set of skills tied back into a medical database, which makes the likelihood that the diagnosis would be more accurate much higher.
By expanding the idea of shared diagnosis among a pool of doctors, you could move toward ever more capable remote monitoring and response equipment that could be placed in homes, thus reducing the time that patients would have to spend in hospitals. Also, we could locate care facilities closer to where people live and away from expensive city centers and remove much of the stress that long-term health care puts on families.
For diseases like cancer—which has taken a large number of folks from my extended family—the use of a database and a shared pool of doctors providing diagnoses could both improve survivability and massively reduce the pain the patient and family go through during treatment.
Wrapping Up: Your Favorite PC Could Be the One that Saves Your Life
In the end, Dell’s accidentally secret OEM computer group, or something like it, could be instrumental in both saving your life and my life at some future point. It could be helpful in actually getting the ACA to work economically. Rather than attacking each other in Congress, maybe the effort from the two primary U.S. political parties should be shifted to attacking what makes the service non-viable—its cost. And through that effort, they could ensure that all of us have a longer and happier life. That way, we all could actually have both the best and most affordable health care in the world.