Later this week, a Federal appeals court will hear oral arguments challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s new Internet regulations. A large number of broadband firms, mobile firms and web entrepreneurs oppose the rules. They wonder why Washington should replace the longstanding, successful policy of open experimentation with a regime of heavy regulation. Last winter’s policy upheaval appears already to have reduced broadband investment by around 10 percent over the first nine months of the year.
One reason the new rules are so dangerous is that they could discourage innovation in fields that desperately need an injection of information technology and the Silicon Valley ethos that often accompanies it. Healthcare, for example, is the largest sector of the US economy, and yet it is among the least productive. The Affordable Care Act is exacerbating the frustrations and budgetary bloat of a healthcare landscape already dominated by Medicare, Medicaid, and heavily regulated private markets. We’ve got lots of terrific doctors, nurses, and medical technologies, but the sector as a whole lacks the dynamism of industries that consistently deliver better consumer experiences at lower costs.
Fortunately, as I write in a new report, “The App-ification of Medicine” (0),
“Computers and the Internet are on the cusp of making healthcare more personal, consumer oriented, cost effective, innovative, agile, and entrepreneurial. IT will empower both consumers and medical practitioners. We will have better knowledge of our bodies, and so will our doctors. We will communicate with our physicians more easily, and doctors will move down the cutting edge of treatment more quickly. Often the entire process will become automated, and the ubiquitous doctor visit will be saved for rare occasions. Researchers and entrepreneurs will make use of the new information to deliver better treatments and cures, and patients themselves will get in on the act. They already are.”
Smartphones and personal devices will collect ever more information. Big Data and “cloud bio” will supercharge our ability to analyze this information and do entrepreneurial research. And our truly radical new understanding of biological information networks – the genetic and proteomic “code of life” – will put medicine on a Moore’s-law path of exponential innovation.
“Just as the macrocosm of vacuum tubes gave way to the microcosm of silicon chips, we are moving from the goopy world of petri dishes to the biocosm of DNA and protein codes, biomarkers and pathways, the information networks of molecular metabolics. The new knowledge and tools will yield therapies customized not merely to symptoms or broad disease categories but to the individual person. Information-based medicine will provide for diagnostic “sniffers” – molecular sleuths meandering through our bodies on the lookout for anomalous cells and intruding microbes. We will design therapies to repair some cells and kill others, to open these pathways and block those.”
To most fully realize the potential of these technological innovations, however, we will need to open up the business of healthcare to far more experimentation and entrepreneurship. In other words, we need to “app-ify” healthcare.
All of these exciting possibilities, however, require ever more capable, robust and flexible networks to serve the new information industry of health; faster broadband, more mobile coverage, more cloud computing capacity and an open environment of app development and service experimentation will all be necessary. These much-needed innovations could be slowed or even blocked by the FCC’s new Internet rules.