For the past six months, fixing our flawed health care system has consumed our country’s politics. In the course of the debate (including the health care summit underway today), one of the few things that both sides can agree on is the potential for new technologies to improve the system. And while technology can never do the job on its own, the money-saving potential is vast. Here we’ve gathered the most promising devices and processes–ranging from simple tweaks of doctors’ most basic tools to advanced methods for drug production–that could save our bloated system billions.
And embedded below, watch the health care summit live from Washington (10AM to 4PM EST, Thursday, February 25):
3M Littmann Electronic Stethoscope 3200
This sound-amplifying scope, our 2009 Best of What’s New Grand Award winner, teams up with heart murmur-detecting software that can signal heart abnormalities or leaky valves. By allowing your everyday doc to better find murmurs, this scope could save $9.4 billion a year in unnecessary echocardiogram tests and cardiologist fees.
Medical Acoustics Lung Flute
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease might be able to scale back on their meds by instead using this $40 reusable instrument (also a PopSci Best of What’s New award winner) that sends vibrations into the lungs to break up mucus. Make sure to check out the video of the Lung Flute in action, starring Senior Associate Editor Bjorn Carey and His Mucus.
A Better Catheter
Sometimes a simple change can make all the difference. By adding a guide wire to the tip of a standard IV catheter, Amir Belson invented an IV that won’t poke vein walls by accident, a problem that can cost hospitals thousands of dollars a week. He expects that his catheter will cost about the same as those used currently.
GE’s Vscan Mini Ultrasound Scanner
GE’s pocket-size ultrasound scanner means that your doc can check out your internal organs right there in his office, without sending you to the radiology unit for a scan by a larger, pricier machine.
This $10 piece turns any cell phone into a microscope. Rural docs could then easily send the images to a larger hospital for a pathologist’s expert opinion. Just a few of the reasons why an earlier model received a PopSci Best of What’s New award in 2008.
Behold the power of music. Last summer, researchers showed that vets with PTSD enrolled in a music therapy program (banging on a drum to the rhythm) could help their symptoms, probably by encouraging new connections between neurons in the brain. Although it’s hard to put an exact price tag on this one, a 99 cent track from iTunes, plus an overturned soup pot and some spoons is likely cheaper than current treatments.
The self-sanitizing BioMask traps bacteria and viruses and then kills them with zinc and copper particles. It destroys 99.9% of the flu in tests and, at an expected $1 to $2 a pop, could cut infection in hospitals as well as be a cheap (and more effective) addition to your personal pandemic kit.
Insulin Made From Flowers
Americans with diabetes shell out some $132 billion a year for insulin, which usually comes from genetically engineered yeast or bacteria. But Canadian scientists can make it cheaper. They inserted the human insulin gene into the common safflower plant, which churns out the drug for a fraction of the cost. Just 25 square miles of the crop could make insulin for the entire world.
DIY Sperm Counts
OK, so male fertility testing probably isn’t the biggest burden on the American healthcare system, but anything you can do at home with a simple kit should save money by eliminating need for a paid professional. Dutch scientists developed a chip that electrically measures the concentration of sperm against a standard, rather than having a lab employee or expensive computer count every single swimmer one at a time.