Biomedicine in museums

Do Europeans not produce any interesting medical technologies?

By August 10, 2009 No Comments

Medgadget believes there is a good reason why their blog mainly covers medical devices and technologies coming from the United States, namely the great American healthcare system, “equipped with the latest technologies, smart doctors and clean hospitals … a system that delivers unbelievable technologies to help patients day in and day out”.

“There must be a reason”, they add, “why we almost never see anything interesting coming out of France, Greece, Spain, Italy, or most other European countries (Germany being the clear exception)”.

Medgadget asks this rhetorical question as an argument against the Obama administration’s health care plan. But besides the pros and cons of Obamacare, I wonder if the claim is really true. Is the US really the motor of medical device innovation? Do Europeans not produce any interesting medical technologies?

Historically, this is of course an outrageous claim. Brought up in technologically innovative Sweden and now living in a small country (Denmark) with a plethora of small and large medical device companies, I intuitively know it is plainly wrong. And I can easily substantiate my intuition with a lot of anecdotal evidence — Coloplast and Oticon in Denmark, Gambro, Getinge and Elekta in Sweden, just to name a few.

The combined annual production value of the Danish and Swedish medical device industries is around 90 billion DKK (~15 billion USD). In the light of a total population of around 15 million this is a pretty impressive achievement. (And note that these are countries with strong national health care systems!)

But I must confess that I don’t know if this high productivity is the result of innovations of the past. Is the innovation rate still high? A 2007 report from the Royal Institute of Technology, the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital indicates that many of the most important Swedish innovations are 30-50 years old and that there are signs that the rate of innovation is declining. Maybe the situation is similar in Denmark? That would make Medgadget’s claim somewhat less outrageous.

But that said I believe there are more obvious reasons for why Medgadget almost only covers medical devices and technologies coming from the US, namely the fact that the editors are situated in the US, that they are thus familiar with US industrial culture, have a tendency to follow American websites, and (most importantly) cannot read the current of daily tech news published in Danish, Swedish and other European languages. In other words, Medgadget’s medical device universe is nationally myopic.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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